- Less than a year after it was launched, voice-led social media app has a significant celebrity following and noteworthy investments.
With the pandemic still raging into the new year, people are finding themselves connecting with family, friends, co-workers and colleagues through social media platforms. The newest player on the block is Clubhouse, a voice-led social media app.
Barely a year old (it turns one in March), the app, co-founded by Rohan Seth and Paul Davison is already creating a lot of buzz, thanks to its brand value and celebrity following. The invitation-only app lets members create rooms on various topics, and other users can drop in to either listen in on the conversation or participate.
A Space for Conversation, Expression
Clubhouse has 2 million users, including high-profile celebrities like Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, Drake, Tiffany Haddish and Oprah Winfrey. Last month, it secured a $100 million investment, a Business Insider report said, adding: “The company’s new funding gave it a post-money valuation of up to $1.4 billion, a tenfold increase from the previous round.”
The app is being heralded as “the first new interesting social network in almost a decade,” by serial entrepreneur Elad Gil.
“Clubhouse was designed to be a space for authentic conversation and expression—where people can have fun, learn, make meaningful connections, and share rich experiences with others around the world,” the website says. Clubhouse is currently on iPhone only.
In a blog post published on the Clubhouse website, Seth and Davison talk about the genesis of the app and discuss plans to expand it. “Our focus now is on opening up Clubhouse to the whole world,” they say on the blogpost. “With that goal in mind for 2021, we have secured a new round of funding,” they say, adding, “It’s always been important to us to have investors who care deeply about diversity, and who will work hard to help us make Clubhouse a welcoming and inclusive community. We’re working hard to scale Clubhouse as fast as we can and open it up to everyone soon.”
Along with working to make Clubhouse more inclusive and accessible, Seth is working on Lydian Accelerator, a non-profit group for genetic treatment, inspired by his baby daughter, Lydia Niru Seth. He started Lydian Accelerator in 2019, after his daughter was born with a critical mutation gene called KCNQ2. Seth is married to Jennifer Seth, a Google employee.
On his LinkedIn profile, he says: “After our newborn daughter was born with a spontaneous genetic disease that will cause severe lifelong disabilities, we started a non-profit research accelerator to work on a groundbreaking personalized genetic treatment. Our mission is to scale this platform for other children and bring an end to the long tail of genetic diseases.”
Last Father’s Day, Seth posted his photo with Lydia. “Quick Father’s Day update! Lydia is 18 months today. She’s very physically & mentally disabled, but sweet & happy for which we are grateful. We are hoping to start her gene silencing treatment this Oct and will keep on fighting to give her & kids like her a better future!”
Through extensive research and conversations with leading scientists, the couple discovered a technology called antisense oligonucleotides (ASO) which can combat the mutation in its infant stages, giving their daughter and others like her a chance of recovery. “We are early in our journey, but motivated to help beyond Lydia,” the couple say on the website. “Our first milestone will be to share a blueprint for Lydia’s ASO that can be repurposed for subsequent N-of-1 treatments. Over the next few months, we will start by asking our collaborators to open source everything from Lydia’s N-of-1— the process, costs, contracts, protocols, assays, cell lines and data.”
Genesis of Clubhouse
In fact, in fall 2019, Seth connected with Davison to get his advice on how to raise money for the nonprofit. “In the fall of 2019, we reconnected over some work that Rohan was doing to help his daughter Lydia, who was born with a rare genetic disease, and eventually that reconnection led to us finally teaming up to work together,” Clubhouse blog says.
After “a lot of iteration in the audio space,” they launched Clubhouse in March of last year. “Our goal was to build a social experience that felt more human — where instead of posting, you could gather with other people and talk. Our north star was to create something where you could close the app at the end of the session feeling better than you did when you opened it, because you had deepened friendships, met new people and learned.”
They first “rolled out an app called Talkshow for scheduling and streaming live radio like programs,” Business Insider reported. The duo tweaked the app, “peeled away some features and focused on something that Talkshow’s beta testers loved: the ability to have listeners pop into the show as a guest speaker,” Business Insider said. That was how Clubhouse was born.
On his blog, Andrew Chen, a partner at Andreessen Horowitz and an investor in Clubhouse writes about the time he met Davison. “When I first met Paul Davison, it took about 10 seconds to realize he was one of the most charismatic, energetic founders I’d met in a long time,” he writes. At the time, Davison was building Highlight, “a mobile-first social app that would bring people together.” The company eventually sold to Pinterest. Chen writes that when he met Davison a year later, he had teamed up with Seth, “a seasoned entrepreneur and technical genius.” He writes about how the duo worked on Talkshow and the birth of Clubhouse. “The moment we saw it, we were deeply excited,” he wrote, announcing his company’s collaboration with the app.
A Shared Love of Social Products
Seth is the second Indian American to come into the limelight, after Baiju Bhatt, the cofounder of Robinhood, which made headlines after it restricted the trading of a couple of stocks following an effort by users of a chat group to drive up their price. Like Bhatt and Robinhood co-founder and CEO Vladimir Tenev, Seth and Davison also attended Stanford. However, unlike the Robinhood co-founders, who were roommates and classmates, Seth and Davinson met through a mutual friend in 2011.
In the blog post, the Clubhouse co-founders say they “connected over a shared love of social products.” At the time, Seth was working on ways to help friends find each other in cities, and Davinson was building an app called Highlight to help people form friendships with others around them. “Over the next ten years we both kept working on social products — experimenting with new apps, failing, and starting again,” the blog says. According to a Business Insider report, Seth and Davison graduated from Stanford four years apart, and “even started working at Google the same month.”
According to his LinkedIn profile, Seth, who grew up in New Delhi, earlier worked at Google, and was an “early member of Google’s mobile team working on product and engineering efforts for Android, Google Maps and location platform.” He left Google in 2012. Two years later he founded Memry Labs with the former Microsoft employee Rohan Dang, and served as its CEO, until it was acquired by Opendoor. The company raised $1.2 million, “led by Khosla Ventures and a great group of angels,” as per Seth’s LinkedIn profile. “We explored new behaviors to record and remember more memories. Our apps were downloaded by hundreds of thousands of users and featured by Apple among their Best New Apps.”
Before Seth and Davison reconnected in 2019, the two serial entrepreneurs had been working on social products, albeit unsuccessfully. Business Insider reported that Seth and Davison have “at least nine failed apps between them, including Talkshow, their first collaboration and the predecessor to Clubhouse.” In the blogpost they say: “Unlike our other attempts, Clubhouse seemed to strike a real chord with people, and it has accelerated quickly over the past ten months — from a small handful of beta testers into a diverse and growing network of communities.” They said Clubhouse was their “last try.” After almost a year of launch, the co-founders say on their blog: “It’s the most exciting thing we’ve ever been a part of.”
Bhargavi Kulkarni has been a journalist for nearly two decades. She has a degree in English literature and French. She is also an adventure sport enthusiast, and in her free time, she likes to cook, bake, bike and hike.