Clubhouse Is Booming. So Is the Ecosystem Around It

About a month ago, Marcin Brukiewicz scored an invite to Clubhouse and started spending hours on the audio app. Brukiewicz, a Polish physician, joined rooms discussing the future of health care and medical technology, and met people from all around the world in spaces like the Healthcare Innovators Club and the Global Health Club. Brukiewicz sometimes talks, but he mostly listens. “I’m an introvert, so I don’t like to speak up,” he says. He’s also not a native English speaker, and sometimes finds the language barrier intimidating. Then a friend complained that it’s difficult for moderators to know who to call on in a large audience, and Brukiewicz had an idea: What if there were a Clubhouse feature where you could type your thoughts?

Over the weekend, Brukiewicz built Ask Clubhouse, a simple web tool for managing audience Q&As on Clubhouse. Moderators can set up a “board,” link it to a Clubhouse room, and invite audience members to type their questions or comments, which the mods can then see in real time. Brukiewicz launched the site over the weekend; on Monday, he said, people had created about 50 different boards. He thinks some moderators will use it to manage large audiences; other people might find comfort in typing rather than talking, which could also make the platform more accessible. Brukiewicz hopes Clubhouse one day builds a version of this feature natively. For now, though, people can use his workaround.

When Clubhouse launched last spring, it served as an intimate gathering space for the early adopter crowd. But in the past two months, the invite-only app has exploded in popularity, and now has over 10 million users according to the researcher Vajresh Balaji. Many of those new users are arriving on the platform with ideas about how to make it better, or how to maximize functionality with existing features. Brukiewicz’s tool is just one of many that have been invented in the last month: Clubpad offers a free soundboard for use in Clubhouse rooms: a drumroll, a sad trombone, the timer from Jeopardy!, a DJ horn. Host Notes gives moderators a space for links, meeting agendas, and discussion summaries. Clubhouse Recorder is a Telegram bot lets people record audio from a room. ClubLink, Clubhype, and each shorten links to Clubhouse rooms to make them easier to share on social media. There are at least four apps for adding a colorful ring around your Clubhouse avatar.

Other users, eyeing Clubhouse’s staggering $1 billion valuation, see a way to make money. There’s another soundboard—this one sold for $2.99 in the App Store. Direcon offers analytics for power users who pay a monthly fee; it’s already raised a seed round. “There’s this cottage industry of people now getting on the platform who are trying to capitalize on the moment,” says Chris Messina, a product strategist and early Clubhouse user.

Messina, who was also an early adopter on Instagram and Twitter, says this kind of symbiosis happens once platforms reach a certain level of maturation. Some users end up building functionality that make their own experience better: Imgur, for example, started as a workaround for sharing photos on Reddit, seven years before the platform introduced a native image-upload feature. Messina himself is well known for creating the hashtag on Twitter as a way to organize the platform into groups of ideas; Twitter later took the idea and ran with it. “People solve their own problems,” he says.

On Clubhouse, it’s no different. People have been working within the constraints of the app to make it work for them. For example: There’s no way to share images, so some people use their avatar to show charts or other visuals that may be relevant to a room. There’s no way to share notes or links, so some people add link trees to their bio where more information can be found. Clubhouse does not have the UI to show which rooms are on-the-record, so people add red dots, in emoji, to the names of rooms that are being recorded.

Some have taken that kind of creative problem-solving further, to build their own businesses. YoYo Club—advertised as the “Eventbrite for Clubhouse”—gives moderators a way to plan and promote future Clubhouse rooms, cutting through the noise of Clubhouse’s notifications. “You follow people and then you end up getting 60 Clubhouse notifications every hour,” says Peter Swain, YoYo Club’s cofounder. “So I’m not actually getting notifications from the people I’m interested in anymore. And meanwhile, people come into rooms saying, ‘I wish I’d known about this a few hours ago.’” Recognizing the need, Swain and his cofounder prototyped the app in a few weeks. Right now, moderators can use it to show audience members when they have upcoming events scheduled.