I’ve previously written about Clubhouse (What makes Clubhouse great and what may cause its demise). Perhaps it’s boredom, or Zoom fatigue, but there’s something quite appealing these days about having social conversations without turning on a camera.
The early buzz of Clubhouse (despite being invite-only and iOS having a total reach of about 2 million users) along with the rising popularity of podcasts has shown that consumers crave social audio interactions and that there’s plenty of room for innovation in the space. Clubhouse was the trailblazer, but it sparked a huge interest in the category from established social networks, new startups and even the open source community. Now it’s up to the consumers to choose which will be the social audio platform(s) of choice. In this post I summarise the top innovations in the social audio space.
Clubhouse attracts competition from every direction
The social media giants are racing to introduce their own social audio experiences. A few already launched but several others are in development. With an already existing user base, it’s easier for incumbents to roll out new features to a ready-made audience.
- Twitter Spaces, already live, Spaces can host impromptu audio discussions, but has less bells and whistles than Clubhouse for host. There are no calendar reminders or clubs, but now the feature is available for free to any user with 600 followers or more. In addition, Twitter plans to experiment ticketed ‘spaces’ events in the coming months.
- Facebook Soundbites – “we want everyone to have tools that are powerful enough for the pros, but intuitive and fun — like having a sound studio in your pocket”. It also joins a wider Facebook for Creators initiative, launched to help creators publish and monetise content.
- Instagram announced last week that it will allow livestreams without the need to turn on video, essentially enabling live audio rooms.
- Spotify acquired LA-based live audio app Locker Room and is reportedly on a hiring spree to launch their own social audio experience. This is in addition to their 2019 acquisition of Anchor,
- LinkedIn launched a new ‘Creator Mode’ and is experimenting with social audio – “We’re doing some early tests to create a unique audio experience connected to your professional identity.
- Slack is looking to build the B2B version of Clubhouse (Slack Virtual Hallways). Slack’s founder and CEO, Stuart Butterfield, said (on Clubhouse) that ” Slack would soon offer a feature akin to the audio-chat app Clubhouse, which allows users to drop into rooms for conversations without requiring scheduling a meeting or initiating a call”
- Reddit is secretly testing audio rooms which are “exploring a new feature that would enable moderator-run voice chats”.
- Discord launched ‘Stage Channels’ , a new feature that allows users to share a focused conversation with select individuals to an audience of listeners.
- Telegram launched Voice Chat 2.0 in March offering Live talks in Telegram groups. The new features include powerful functionality: unlimited number of participants, recordable chats, raise hand mechanics, invite links to listeners and speakers, etc.
Like in the early days of Web 2.0, people on Twitter are asking for invites to the hottest new product, sharing their excitement (“Follow me”, “come to my session”, “I just posted”). There is a new wave of ‘spontaneous social apps‘, as documented by Techcrunch. Perhaps it’s a consequence of being stuck at home during the pandmic, and looking for more spontaneous, less planned, social interactions. While Clubhouse is the most popular of this lot, several new startups are vying to be the place where the conversation happens.
- Racket.com – while not a direct competitor to Clubhouse, it offers an ‘instant podcast’ platform where users can record and publish a 10 minute session, alone or with other speakers. I’ve had a chance to record a few sessions and enjoyed the simplicity of the product. Racket is very “bare bones” at the moment in terms of editing abilities, analytics, social features etc. It has however, a clever marketing launch to build traction: a new user can reserve a username (capture interest), but requires 10 followers (or some hustle) to get an invite code. VC funding, if any, is still undisclosed.
- Fireside app which got be known as “Mark Cuban’s Clubhouse Clone” is still not live, but promises to deliver a next gen podcast platform.
- Riffr calls itself a social micro podcasting app. Started in 2016 by an agency called Mobile-Sphere, and seems to have no outside funding.
- Spoon – audio live streaming. like a Twitch, but with audio. Founded in 2013 and originally from Seoul, Korea, Spoon claims to have over 20 million downloads and raised a total of $60M, most recently $40M series B in Dec 2019. Much of the monetisation for “DJs” (broadcasters) is based on tips.
- Stereo, launched in 2020 and is based in LA. Enables audio live streaming (again, like an ‘audio Twitch’). 31 employees according to Linkedin, but seems to be bootstrapped.
- Capuccino – an audio social network launched in July 2020 by French founders. The app offers users to record short voice memos (‘beans’) to be shared with friends and family who can also comment in voice. Similar to Saga, a family-focused audio social network.
- Space – offers a widget that enables users to host live audio-only chat directly on their website. Run live podcasts, townhalls, AMAs with your users to increase engagement and get feedback over audio chat without taking them to a different platform
- Leher – India based audio rooms social network. Bootstrapped.
- Mumble – the first wide spread free and open source software for VoIP. Mumble is a low-latency, high quality voice chat software primarily intended for use while gaming.
- Jam – a self-hosted and open source alternative to clubhouse, Jam offers a minimal WebRTC based version of a Clubhouse-style “room”. Also offers a no-code option to easily add audio rooms to any website.
- Element – a Matrix-based end-to-end encrypted (E2EE) secure collaboration and messaging app. It’s basically an open-source messaging platform like Whatsapp, designed for communities. It supports audio, and offers interoperability across Slack, IRC, Discord, etc.
Audio remains a huge opportunity and is likely to continue to grow. I want to echo the words of Aryeh Bourkouff (founder and CEO of Liontree) in his annual letter:
Despite being one of the oldest forms of media, audio assets and the greater opportunity remain undervalued. Audio will be a key component of the next wave of content and consumption, and it is set to continue to grow, even given the outsized attention and investment dollars lavished on the video industry due to the content spending habits of Netflix and the existential threat it has posed to the media industry for the last decade. More step-changes to come as the industry consolidates and the spending and monetization gap compared to video content narrowsLiontree Year End Letter, by Aryeh Bourkoff
Sorry to end on a shameless plug, but this is an area we cover closely at Remagine Ventures. If you’re a seed and pre-seed founder working on innovative products in this space, you don’t need to wait for a warm intro to contact Remagine Ventures. We’d love to hear from you!