Live social audio was once a hot trend. Platforms were racing to develop audio tools that could compete with pandemic darling Clubhouse. But the best days of Clubhouse and its competitors seem to be behind them.
Several Clubhouse executives have headed for the exit recently. In late April, Stephanie Simon left as the company’s head of Brand Evangelism and Development. Simon joined Clubhouse just a couple of months after launch in 2020. Then this week, three more leaders announced their resignations, including Nina Gregory, Aarthi Ramamurthy and Anu Atluru; the trio led News, International and Community, respectively.
“Clubhouse wouldn’t be where it is today without them,” a spokesperson told Protocol of the departed executives. “We’re immensely grateful for everything they have done and we know that they’ll do great things in the future.”
Ramamurthy’s departure is particularly notable. She’s married to Sriram Krishnan, a partner for a16z, a major Clubhouse investor. The pair used to host the "The Good Time Show" on Clubhouse, but they’ve recently turned to broadcasting it live on YouTube instead. Ramamurthy and other departed leaders did not return requests for comment.
Atluru's exodus is also eyebrow-raising, as she was one of Clubhouse's earliest employees. She was an investor in the app's series A round, and more recently provided seed funding to the buzzy social media platform BeReal. Gregory came to Clubhouse from NPR, where she was a senior editor on its arts desk.
The social audio platform has been struggling for some time, and the departures are another sign that Clubhouse is in trouble — but they're hardly the only one. The platform is also struggling to hold an audience. Between Jan. 1 and May 31, Clubhouse saw 3.8 million installs globally compared to 19 million installs during the same period last year, according to SensorTower data. That's an 80% drop year-over-year.
When the company was riding high a year ago, Clubhouse was valued at $4 billion after a round of series C funding. It's unclear, though, how much the company is worth today.
Many of the platforms that followed Clubhouse into the realm of live audio are also losing steam. Facebook shut down its short-form audio Soundbites feature and its Audio hub. Meanwhile, the company integrated its Live Audio Rooms feature into its live video offering. Twitter is scaling back resources for Spaces and other long-term projects. Reddit’s social audio feature launched in April 2021, and it's still in pilot mode. Whether it ever takes off is TBD, but the state of live audio right now certainly doesn't bode well for it.
But some companies aren’t giving up. Spotify Greenroom, for example, just rebranded to Spotify Live; Discord just launched a Clubhouse clone called Stage channels; and VC David Sacks’ new social audio app, Callin, raised $12 million last fall.
Still, there are no clear winners in the live social audio race: only losers and new contenders. And unless those new entrants can attract and hold onto a substantial post-lockdown audience, social audio may end up as nothing more than a pandemic fad.