Carolyn McMaster | June 15, 2021
A lot of people are talking about Clubhouse, particularly in the PR, media and tech business worlds. In fact, it seems like more people have been talking about Clubhouse than are talking in it. The app’s situation illustrates a few PR challenges every new venture faces, and how a communications plan strengthens startups.
The invite-only social platform beta-launched in March 2020, with the idea that an audio-only app would be better than videoconferencing as a way for people to gather in groups to talk and share ideas. It had powerful VC backing and celebrity endorsements. By the end of 2020, it had around 600,000 users. In the month of February 2021 almost 10 million people downloaded the app. The media covered the growth glowingly.
Then downloads plunged to 2.7 million in March, and again to less than a million in April. Today Clubhouse is still the talk of the town, but media coverage and other conversations center around whether it’s going to last. (Googling “Is Clubhouse doomed” pulled up over 4.5 million results.)
Being first means challenges for every startup
Only time will tell whether it lives or dies, but the buzzy app is a great illustration of what we call first-mover disadvantage, one of the three big barriers new ventures face.
Being first has many plusses—you’re the only game in town, and the media flock to novelty (especially when famous funders and celebrities are attached). But that doesn’t last. New businesses that grow quickly are also magnets for skeptics (Clubhouse has its fair share) and copycats that can pounce quickly (Twitter, Facebook, Slack and others are rolling out similar platforms just as Clubhouse use is on the wane).
Being in the vanguard also means you need to educate the market, build demand and prove yourself constantly. Doing all these things well requires strong communications that anticipate, fend off or ameliorate skepticism and set the bar higher for competition. Clubhouse is having trouble defining itself and educating the market, despite excellent brand recognition (not to mention an astronomical valuation).
Obviously, communications alone can’t save a new brand. (Clubhouse has other challenges, too.) But experience has shown that with a well-planned and well-executed communications plan strengthens startups, putting them in a much stronger position to face first-mover disadvantage challenges or even avoid them altogether.
If Clubhouse gets it right, at least as many more people will be talking in it as are talking about it.