Social audio is set to have its YouTube moment, Clubhouse founders say

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Mumbai: Clubhouse, an invite-only audio chat app
launched on Android in India on May 21, has crossed the one million-downloads mark. On Monday, ET Now’s Nayantara Rai spoke with Clubhouse founders
Paul Davison and Rohan Seth in their first TV interview together.

Edited excerpts:

ClubHouse became a global sensation after Elon Musk made an appearance in February. How did a brand new startup—not even one year old at that time—get Elon Musk?

RS: We actually didn’t do anything special to get Elon. Every single day there are all these amazing creators who are creating thousands and thousands of rooms, and the credit goes to them.
Aarthi (Ramamurthy) and Sriram (Krishnan) who host The Good Times Show
got Elon, and we were not involved in getting him on ClubHouse in any way.

And, what about Mark Zuckerberg? How did that one happen?


PD: It’s really interesting, we’d never built the product for these large scale use cases and for big celebrities from the early days. Our goal is to build for everyone in the world. There are so many people out there who don’t have a following offline, but they’re smart and funny and have domain expertise.

When you look at Twitter Spaces, what do you make of it? Facebook is yet to launch its voice tools.


RS: You know, we’re just really excited about voice as a medium. We’re just focused on our own product and are just really enjoying building it right now.

PD: It’s not too surprising to us that other people are getting into social audio. There are probably 10 other big networks that we’ve heard are launching social audio products. And, we think audio is a durable media. Text was, photos were, short videos were, and audio will be. So there will be a lot more of that from many different companies all around the world.

Will you ever try video? Do you think you’ll ever allow rooms to be recorded?


RS: Never say never! But, audio is the core of the Clubhouse experience today, and we’re blown away by all the creative ways that people are leveraging audio, and even visuals of the profile picture.

What do you make of the way Clubhouse is being used in India? There are rooms for ghost stories, Delhi-Gurgaon Tinder nights, Hanuman Chalisa recital rooms and so on…


RS: I was born in India, grew up in Delhi, and did my schooling there. I’ve always been astonished by the incredible creativity of Indians, and I’m just so excited that people around the world are going to discover that creativity on Clubhouse. At any given moment, there is a variety of rooms with singing and music to discuss business, politics, sports and cinema. You mentioned the room which has Hanuman Chalisa recital every single morning. Then there are all these other rooms where people just take turns singing Antakshari with each other.

PD: Technology is for reducing friction, and when you can give people a tool, they blow you away with the new use cases.

Look what happened to the video. For decades, you had broadcast television where at least in the US, there were four channels and everyone wanted the same thing at 7:30 on a Thursday night. And then in the 90s we got cable, and that’s when we suddenly had 24-hour news stations and home shopping networks and golf channels and things that had never really been possible before.

And then we got YouTube around 2005, and wow! People just came up with all sorts of different formats. Hundreds, thousands of different things that had never even been thought of before. And with audio, you can imagine a similar progression.

How are you going to make sure that Clubhouse is a safe social network?


PD: Moderation, trust and safety are things that you have to constantly prioritise if you’re building any sort of social network. We need to make sure that our team is staffed with people who have experience in building social networks and also have the ability to think about how live group audio is different, and how we can do better than other platforms.

We need to make sure we’re stepped up to handle a wide range of different languages and regions. Then, we need to think about our external policies that we share with the world.

Will you allow monetisation by the creators or is it too early to talk about it?


RS: We’ve always wanted to build a business that is aligned with the interests of our creators. Direct creator monetisation is really important to us. We recently
rolled out direct payments for creators in the app in the US, and one of the things that we’d like to do is roll out tipping, tickets and subscriptions. I think we need to explore a lot more here.

PD: To build on Rohan’s point, we’re really excited to create a different and the right type of network: based on genuine authentic human connection that leaves you feeling better, rather than worse. We want to make sure that we’re only growing in business if the creators are growing as businesses. So, we started off with direct payments, which we’re really excited to roll out to more parts of the world, including India, and as quickly as we possibly can. We’re excited about things like tipping and subscriptions and paid events. I imagine that the way we’ll end up funding the business is by taking a small cut of a certain type of transaction.

Also Read:
Clubhouse to roll out payments feature in India, comply with IT rules

What is the craziest, wackiest thing that you both have seen on Clubhouse?


PD: There was a wedding the other day, which I think a lot of people really enjoyed. I didn’t get to see that one.

RS: A few months ago, 40 people just met each other on Clubhouse, and decided to host an entire production of The Lion King, the musical. They did the voices, sound effects and then they changed their profile photos so that scene would change behind them. It was one of the most creative things I’ve ever seen.

Also Read:
Clubhouse in talks to raise funds at $4 billion valuation

Rohan, you grew up in Delhi, moved to Silicon Valley, chasing big dreams. What is your suggestion to young entrepreneurs?


RS: I’ve always been one of those people who enjoyed building things. The best thing about the internet is you can connect with people around the world and you can build things with them. Anytime you have an idea, just build it. When I was growing up in India, I used to build all these websites, and used to get to talk to people around the globe. Nowadays you can build companies and applications that can reach millions and billions of people.

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