February 12

I don’t like Clubhouse — but might it be a truly magical product?

Okay, I’m going to admit something that I probably shouldn’t — and I just know that you’re going to think less of me as a product person by saying this. 

Clubhouse just isn’t for me, personally.

It just… isn’t. I’ve been thinking about this ever since I saw one of my favorite product people, Ken Norton, come to a similar conclusion recently. The idea of spending hours on end essentially on a conference call with others with a very loose agenda is just not really all that appealing to me. Even more, I just don’t want to invest my time into it. As a bootstrapped entrepreneur, there are already way too many things to do during the day as it is. The only time I could see myself really investing time into it would be after-hours for me. But my after-hours are spent with my family. I’d much rather be having fun with my two young kids. After they pass out, I know I usually have just about an hour until I’m succumbing to the same fate — and that’s time that I spend with my wife. Sorry Clubhouse, there’s just no time for you.

But before you reach for your pitchforks and cancel me for sharing something that’s probably very unpopular with “the cool kids” in tech, I’ll say something else that, given my disinterest in the platform, may surprise you.

I think Clubhouse might just be a magical product.

I can be objective enough to give credit where it’s due and believe Clubhouse is a very well-made, well-designed product. It may not be a perfect product. But it is a magical product that is already rightfully winning awards and, as a venture, has earned its way to a Unicorn-sized valuation.

What makes a product Magical?

To me, there are a few things that make a product truly magical. But first, it’s important to understand the definition of “magical” itself. One of the definitions given by Oxford Languages is: “beautiful or delightful in such a way as to seem removed from everyday life.”

This definition is broad, but it actually applies quite well to software products of today. Further, there are several characteristics that seem to be common with products that I consider to be truly magical:

  1. An experience that is truly unique — beyond simple novelty.
  2. Simplicity to the core — it just works.
  3. Induces awe and wonder — sometimes indescribable, but “you know it when you feel it.”

It’s rare that products can meet all three requirements. That said, there are plenty of products out there that I’d describe as truly magical. I’ll name a few, along with one of the above characteristics that especially stands out to me.

  1. Amazon Echo: My son recently scored a vintage Nickelodeon Time Blaster clock radio. At first, though, he was really confused. There was no swiping. No voice control. No color images. He was almost disappointed. We now almost take the experience of products like Amazon Echo for granted. We literally tell Amazon Echo to play us a songand it does! Voice-enabled intelligent assistants are now a thing. But sometimes, it’s important to be reminded just how recent these became a thing.
  2. Square Cash (circa 2013): You can certainly make the argument that Square’s Cash app is a better product now. But back in 2013 before the app component of it even existed, the way that Square Cash worked was this: You could sign up for an account — and link your debit card. But after that, each time you wanted to send somebody money, you simply emailed them — and cc: cash@square.com — with the amount you want to send in the subject line. That’s it. Sending a friend money was as simple as sending an email.
  3. Tesla Smart Summon: If you had told me when I was ten years old that when I was an adult, my car would actually drive itself to meet me when walking out of a store so I didn’t have to walk all the way to the back of the parking lot, I would bet the entire $42 I probably had to my name that you’d be wrong. And I’d have won that bet. My Jeep Wrangler doesn’t do that. But Tesla’s Smart Summon feature does. And every time I’ve seen it in action, it has yet to not completely shock at least one person who sees the car driving with nobody in the driver seat. It’s literally something that we talked about decades ago when we envisioned what the future might look like.

So is Clubhouse really a Magical product?

I stand by my assertion that Clubhouse just isn’t for me. Maybe it will be someday. But for right now, I’m just not that into it. But I do believe that Clubhouse may just be a little magical. Here’s why:

  1. Clubhouse truly is a unique experience. Some people can make the joke that they don’t want to end their day of long, back-to-back Zoom calls with another long audio conference call. Fair enough. But it’s not that. You have the opportunity to join audio rooms and literally talk with all sorts of interesting people. I’ve seen friendships emerge through Clubhouse — like former Heisman Trophy winner and NFL great, Ricky Williams, befriending an entrepreneur I respect, Brandon Brooks — when Ricky was listening in to a room that Brandon hosted. This is just one example. But just like I’ve been able to make friends and build relationships on Twitter, people are doing this on Clubhouse in ways that may be hard to do otherwise. It’s not every day that a product can give you access and put you in the same conversation as people who may have otherwise been hard to connect with.
  2. The Clubhouse experience really is as simple as it gets. Follow people you’re interested in — and you’ll see various rooms that are recommended to you. Tap that room, and you’re in. You’re a part of the conversation. If you have something to say, you can tap the hand icon, and eventually, there’s a good chance the virtual mic will get passed to you and the floor will be yours. Once you have the app, you can start listening in to conversations within seconds. It really is that easy.
  3. There really is a bit of wonderment to it. It’s hard to describe, because again — one can make the case that it’s basically an audio “conference call” app… and they would be right. Sort of. But even the design itself — where you can see a profile picture stand out by the microphone icon underneath all of a sudden going to “non-mute” status and that person begins speaking. Their smiling face staring back at you while you’re hearing them speak does make you feel a bit more connected. I think there’s a good reason that some people are spending as many as 10 hours (or more!) listening in and participating in Clubhouse rooms in one sitting. You don’t do that on optional conference calls. While awe and wonderment may be a “you know it when you feel it” kind of thing, for those people — they seem to be feeling it.

If Clubhouse is a magical product — does that mean it’s for everyone?

Well, no. Again, things could change, but right now — it’s certainly not for me. It’s not to say that there’d be no value in participating. As somebody that runs one of the best product management communities around today in Product Collective, there certainly would be value in me joining the Clubhouse craze. It would make a lot of sense to start a Product Collective room and host chats on there frequently. I could even see us doing some sort of crossover for our conference, INDUSTRY: The Product Conference — where speakers pop in on Clubhouse after their talk so people who couldn’t make it to the show could at least hear from them as well. And maybe we will do some of those things. It’s certainly worth the experiment for us as a business — and I always enjoy connecting with new people and making new product friends.

But while the value is there, I’m just not so sure that for me personally — the value in starting and participating in Clubhouse sessions after hours outweighs what I’d miss out on from time with my family. It’s true that it’s a personal trade-off. But we all have to draw the line somewhere.

So no, Clubhouse isn’t for everyone. But it doesn’t need to be for everyone to even reach mainstream status. With celebrities like Mr. Beast, Kanye West, Elon Musk, and others making cameo appearances on Clubhouse from time to time, it’s already broaching true mainstream. Some Clubhouse rooms, like Good Time with Aarthi and Sriram already have massive followings. For Generation Z, Clubhouse could be the platform they go to for their own version of a late-night talk show.

Even with Twitter and Facebook quickly announcing and launching their own “me too” features — and other extemporaneous audio platform startups emerging — I’m pretty confident that Clubhouse is here to stay. When a product is truly magical, it doesn’t face the same threats that other products do. You can copy features. It’s really hard to copy magic. And I do believe that Clubhouse has some magic.

Mike Belsito

About the author

Mike Belsito is a startup product and business developer who loves creating something from nothing. Mike is the Co-Founder of Product Collective which organizes INDUSTRY, one of the largest product management summits anywhere in the world. For his leadership at Product Collective, Mike was named one of the Top 40 influencers in the field of Product Management. Mike also serves as a Faculty member of Case Western Reserve University in the department of Design and Innovation, and is Co-Host of one of the top startup podcasts online, Rocketship.FM. Prior to Product Collective, Mike spent the past 12 years in startup companies as an early employee, Co-Founder, and Executive. Mike's businesses and products have been featured in national media outlets such as the New York Times, The Atlantic, CNN, NPR, and elsewhere. Mike is also the Author of Startup Seed Funding for the Rest of us, one of the top startup books on Amazon.


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