Clubhouse. Lunchclub. The “old boys club” is getting disrupted. Thanks to AI led networking tools and the ability for people to break out of their own networking circles and go global, access investors, or even enter the circles of entirely different verticals. One thing that is clear is that the pandemic has greatly accelerated the need to continue to build real-world networks using virtual channels.
Previously the preserve of the lucky few that would earn their way into elite groups like YPO (Young Presidents Organisation), which charged a hefty fee that ran into the thousands of pounds per year to be a member per year, these networking tools are often free. In addition, they also offer the convenience of meeting at a time that is convenient, the location is often your laptop and home and the dress code is bedroom slippers and whatever else makes you comfortable.
The tools have been clever and used integration with diary management and video/audio conference tools. Often their MVPs do nothing more than connect people and let them find convenient times to chat. Having completed a number of calls on Lunchclub which is growing at a clip and recently raised a round of finance, the experience could not be smoother. The gamified service allows you to maintain, what the startup calls a “streak”. And after each call the social proof for the business and the speakers on either side continues to build as you can “rate” the meeting and provide qualitative feedback on what went well and what did not. Linkedin may have long been the most valuable network for professionals but has been unable to introduce much innovation, as past its acquisition by Microsoft the business has become focused on its core business at the cost of innovating further. Why linkedin was unable to launch a lunchclub of its own, is the equivalent of asking why Mastercard could not launch Paypal. They did after all have the network to begin with.
LunchClub uses AI to help people with interests network together asking participants for simple objectives such as meeting interesting people, finding investors, etc and then lets the magic happen. Though the network seems predominantly skewed towards US and UK membership, it seems to be expanding into other geographies at a clip. To make it even more interesting CEO Vlad Novakovski also hosts some of the Valley’s technorati in fireside chats which is a great acquisition engine for the company. Speaking to one LunchClub participant, an expert lawyer in the technology space based in London, Simon Halberstam, like many others he too praises the quality of people on the service. Quality has been a differentiator for the platform with their engine producing a quality of slightly less formal meetings between people across both sides of the Atlantic pond that have produced some happy customers who otherwise may have had to deal with “paid” services like Linkedin premium to connect. The cherry on top of the cake is that its the AI making the introduction in many cases, unless you specifically aim it to people in a list of recommendations, which allows for a small joy of serendipity to be enjoyed during the banality of pandemic lockdowns and widespread Work From Home situations that have deprived many of their water-cooler moments. The service also allows people to find the best medium for them whether video, audio chat or perhaps even a good old fashioned telephone call (have not seen any requests for a landline call yet!). The one thing that is notably is that this is a 1:1 platform. The focus on a bilateral meeting seems to be working for now. Its approach to using supervised learning to pitch different meetings against one another and ask which one was more relevant will only allow the startup to get smarter over time. It is evident that the data hungry start up is always looking to learn more and do more for you. Its latest “strength of your network” is a great call to action, prompting a user to integrate with their gmail.
One thing Lunchclub and Clubhouse both share in common is having Andreessen Horowitz, the Silicon Valley stalwart, as an investor. Clubhouse has now raised $24.2 million (in 2019 it had raised just $3 million), already placing it in an elite group of businesses valued at $100 million. Clubhouse unlike Lunchclub is not merely a networking app. The startup seems to have invented an entirely new social media platform based on the audio medium. Audio seems to be a winning medium, when compared to text and video, primarily because no one cares what you look like (that may not be entirely true as some incredibly well groomed profile pictures grace club rooms) and one can go about other chores without worrying about judgement on their appearance. The most important thing about clubhouse which has been ripping through Europe and now boasts the largest online collection of “Germans in tech” thanks in part to their invitation only culture (similar to LunchClub) and the German Chancellor Angela Merkel herself being on it. Access is something the platform does provide and allows for the meetings that previously may have only happened after boarding a flight to San Francisco such as a random encounter with industry legend, author and technology evangelist Guy Kawasaki.
Its great to see the world shrinking, however it will be interesting to see if Clubhouse begins to creak at the seams after the rooms get so large that the scroll will begin to feel like an infinite scroll (warning: this may happen if Elon Musk joins a public club room – watch this space). A representative sample of the UK startup community has already been on-boarded and continues to pile into the application. Not everyone has invitations to send out but those that do can not only use them to invite friends on, but also help their friends “skip the virtual line” with the simple push of a button (thank fully the ‘help’ does not count as an invite). According to Axios (the news site), Clubhouse most recently raised $100M at a Unicorn valuation of $1Bn. There has been much criticism of the lack of an Android app and the disbelief that an app that excludes half the world’s audience can already reach such a heady valuation. Clearly, the network has a net-worth! And some recent announcements from the company confirm that it is launching a fund to pay out and incentivise creators on the platform. Its the wild west as participants build their audience and grab the attention of “ears” around the world. Video is dead. Long live Audio.