'It just saved my life': Clubhouse app connects Phoenix startup community during pandemic Innovation

Peiyu Lin
 
| Arizona Republic

play
Show Caption

Francine Hardaway, an entrepreneur who has lived in Phoenix for 50 years, describes herself as “a very active 79.” Before COVID-19, she used to go to San Francisco once a month and London twice a year to visit her children. In between, she’s been to India five times and China three times.

She’s also a regular at the Hillstone Restaurant in Phoenix for 25 years. To her, it’s a pick-up bar for middle-aged people.

But all of a sudden, she couldn’t go anywhere after the pandemic hit last year. Her children were worried that she could’ve been very depressed while trapped in her house.

Instead, Hardaway got on Clubhouse, an audio app that allows people to join live conversations, after her friend from Silicon Valley in Northern California invited her in April.

“It just saved my life,” Hardaway said, after using the app for more than nine months. “I swear I would have been insane, but now I have these great conversations all day long.”

What is Clubhouse, how does it work?

Clubhouse is a social media audio app in which users create or enter digital “rooms” to drop in live audio conversations. Founded by Paul Davison and Rohan Seth, the app is currently open only to iPhone users. Only people invited by existing users can join.

After downloading the app, invited users first create a profile of their own. They have the choice to link their Twitter and/or Instagram accounts with the app. Linked Twitter or Instagram accounts will appear on users’ profile pages to let others who visit the profile find more information about the person.

Users then start to follow other Clubhouse users suggested by the app, usually their friends or celebrities who they may be interested in.

After these steps, “rooms” will show up on users’ Clubhouse page. Users would first see topics of the rooms (or sometimes there isn’t one) and a few participants’ names, and they can click to join one. Immediately, they drop in a live conversation.

In the room, users are divided into three categories: speakers, those followed by the speakers, and others in the room. Audiences can raise their hands to ask for a chance to speak, and moderator(s) can agree or invite people to talk.

Which rooms show up to which users depend on who the user is following. Currently, there is no way to simply search a room for a particular topic or keywords. Users can also join different “Clubs,” which are interest-based groups created by others, to get notifications when a conversation is held on behalf of the club.

When a conversation ends and a room is closed, the room disappears immediately. Recordings are not allowed unless agreed by participants in the room. For example, podcasters mark “recording” on their room titles, host their live podcast shows via Clubhouse, and upload the audio on other platforms after the events.

Launched in March 2020, the app has attracted over two million weekly active users as of January 2021, according to Influencer Marketing Hub.

Phoenix area users say it has helped them cope with a lack of socialization during the pandemic and it’s being considered for use during virtual events this year.

App increases community connections in the Phoenix area

The team of Phoenix Startup Week, the Valley’s largest entrepreneurial event that will be held virtually in April, is considering using Clubhouse during the week in some capacity to let people in the community have a place to gather and connect, said Vincent Orleck, who helps organize and market the event. 

Orleck is also the president of Social Media Club in Phoenix, a nonprofit that helps connect social media marketing professionals. He joined Clubhouse in December last year after hearing positive feedback from Hardaway and other local friends.

Orleck, who is based in Mesa, has hosted rooms like #yesPHX Weekly Clubhouse Social, a discussion focusing on the startup and entrepreneurial ecosystem in the Greater Phoenix metro region on the app.

Besides business and marketing, he has listened to comedian Jeff Garlin’s casual conversation with his friends, and former NFL players talking about football games as well.

“It’s access to people that you wouldn’t normally connect with,” Orleck said. “I would never meet these athletes otherwise.”

Orleck is still evaluating what the best approach may be to collaborate with or reach out to like-minded people on both a personal level and a professional level, he said.

“Right now with COVID, obviously we haven’t had events, industry conferences, things like that and this almost serves that type of a purpose,” Orleck said.

Fills social activity gap caused by COVID-19

Hardaway, the co-founder of Stealthmode Partners, a consultant for startup companies since 1999, has used the app “for absolutely everything,” she said. Regularly hosting rooms in the app, she talks, listens, and gives startup advice to people just like she used to do in real life.

She’s spoken to people from the tech community she already knew but also people from all over the world to discuss topics such as Black Lives Matter, the U.S. election, Atlanta’s music industry, and the Nigerian diaspora. She listened to doctors talking about the pandemic, too.

In addition, she is learning Spanish from others via the app on Sunday afternoons.

It’s very easy to spend four hours a day on Clubhouse, Hardaway said. Being one of the active users who first joined the app, she now has about 11,100 followers on the app.

“I use it as a knowledge center,” Hardaway said. “It’s basically a window on the world.”

App boosts professional networking 

Isha Cogborn, the founder of Epiphany Institute and Startup Life Support, in which she helps individuals and start-ups to build professional connections, has generated leads for her business via the app.

Cogborn, who lives in Chandler, joined the app on Nov. 21, 2020, after she first saw someone mention it on Facebook. She spends around 12 to 15 hours a week on the app.

Cogborn has created a Clubhouse club, Platform For Purpose, and regularly hosts rooms on the club. Her intention behind the club is to host conversations that allow people to excel in entrepreneurship in their careers and their personal lives.

For example, she co-hosted a room in February called “When Do Scattered Entrepreneurs Need to Fire Themselves” to discuss delegation, automation, and how to break the cycle of chaos that leads to overwhelming one’s life and business with others.

“Clubhouse is a godsend, especially during a time where traditional events, you know, face-to-face events aren’t happening,” she said.

Since last November, she has been able to refer five people, who she has connected with on Clubhouse, to her clients, and has also gotten additional opportunities for her clients to share their messages to others, Cogborn said.

One of her clients sold her book she didn’t even talk about after the buyer saw her client’s profile on the app, Cogborn said. 

“You don’t have to be heavy-handed in your marketing. When people are interested, and what you share they find value in it, they’re organically wanting to know more about you and more about what you do,” she said.

Podcasts are going live on Clubhouse as well.

Hamid Shojaee, a Scottsdale resident who founded AZ Tech Beat, a site covering Arizona tech news, hosted the first episode of a podcast on Feb. 4 on Clubhouse while recording and filming it for later editing for its YouTube channel.

“We used it like a radio station,” Shojaee said. In the episode, Shojaee interviewed Bob La Loggia, the founder of Arizona-based Appointment Plus, an appointment scheduling software company. Audiences on Clubhouse listened to the live interview and jumped in with questions for the speakers toward the end.

Shojaee joined last month and spends less than half an hour a day on the app on average, he said. He has had conversations with people who he knows and follows on Twitter.

“For the first time, I’ve been able to hear their voice and it’s been super fascinating to be able to do that,” Shojaee said. “I think they’ve done a pretty good job of building something that is very addictive and keeps it real by focusing on a live conversation.”

Reach breaking news reporter Peiyu Lin at [email protected] or on Twitter @peiyulintw.

social experiment by Livio Acerbo #greengroundit #thisisnotapost #thisisart

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.