Published in the San Diego Union-Tribune, June 1, 2020
I will never belong.
I just read about a new audio app called Clubhouse. If you are a Silicon Valley big shot or a Hollywood big shot or a music big shot or just a really big shot from any one of a dozen other verticals, then you can join — maybe. Because, first you have to be invited — and getting an invitation is like trying to score a table at Rao’s pre-COVID.
Andreessen Horowitz recently invested $12 million into the two-person company at a post money valuation of approximately $100 million. Just for the record, the company has no revenue and less than 2,000 members. It is like a walled garden with enough razor wire that it makes going over the wall at Alcatraz seem like a romp on the jungle gym at your local recreation center.
What does Clubhouse do? It lets you eavesdrop on the conversations of other big shots talking about whatever big shots talk about when no one is listening, except they know you are listening, so they have to sound important, without letting on that they know that you know that they know. Go figure.
Founded by Paul Davison and Rohan Seth, the app is still in beta, but some users are finding it addictive. One can only wonder what a person’s life must be like such that listening for hours to other people talking rises to the level of addiction. Look, when I was 9 years old, I was addicted to watching the “Three Stooges,” but then I had a birthday and became 10.
The participants are all impressive and famous, and the content can be wide-ranging. Recently Ben Horowitz was on the app discussing his personal barbecue techniques. Look, I know that everyone wants to belong to something — or someone. It is human to want to touch and laugh and hang with the cool dudes. Maybe our entire life is the senior year of high school redux. Déjà vu all over again. Me personally, I worship at the altar of Groucho Marx, who said, “I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member.”
What fascinates me is the power and the lure of exclusivity. The world is filled with private clubs and hubs, with our noses pressed to the window. We all want what we can’t have, until we get it, and then we find out who else got it, and then if those guys got it, then who wants it anyway. A quote from the New York Times article about the app, “At around 10 every night, 30 to 50 people form a room, where everyone is a host and they swap profile pictures and memes.” Wow, heady stuff.
This Silicon Valley “Inside Baseball” is the kind of wasted innovation that gives entrepreneurship a bad name. Are you telling me that the collective brainpower of this group could do nothing better with their time and money than create a redneck hothouse where you can marry your cousin?
Revenue? Please, do not insult me. A mere bagatelle. Think of all the startup pitch sessions where the investor asks how you make money. Tell them you don’t, you just send a bill. It’s what my golf club does at the end of every year. That is the price of belonging. Alex Taub, an entrepreneur and a Clubhouse member, says, “You don’t want to leave the Clubhouse because you feel like when you leave something crazy is going to happen.” And this is known as FOMO — fear of missing out — and it is what keeps psychiatrists in business.
The app has not even officially launched and already there is competition. Over the weekend an app that mimics the Clubhouse interface called Watercooler was released, according to the same newspaper article.
Look, I admit to being a curmudgeon. I am not a very social butterfly joiner, but in this world, at this time, with the issues that are swirling, with people jobless and dying, with challenges overwhelming, building an app for the rich and famous to admire each other, does seem like an indulgence. If technology and entrepreneurship are to continue to be relevant and try to change the world — then, frankly, go solve bigger problems than create a clubhouse for Our Gang.
Rule No. 662
Me, I’m hanging with Spanky, Alfalfa, Stymie and Buckwheat.