‘If you are paying no price, you are the product.’ This is probably a pretty popular saying by now at the time of this writing. Though this saying might be obsolete and forgotten when this blogpost is read sometime in the future. This post is about ideas and thoughts that might not seem connected at first but will eventually make sense. Isn’t that how most stories are – a set of disjointed themes that ultimately have a common thread running through them. What value do products bring to society and what exactly is a product?
A few weeks now I have been spending some time on Clubhouse. It used to be this exclusive hangout for venture capitalists, prominent people in the entertainment industry and every other sort of mechanism that coalesces around these groups. The application in itself seems to be a rip-off of Twitter but with a refurbished interface. It sounds diminutive but that’s essentially how the world works. We in the previous decade tended to blame China for creating cheap knock-offs of everything from children’s toys to computers and everything in between like yoga-mats and plastics. The industry in China iterated though, enough times to now produce goods of better quality and made quality a metric. The state of China is another story though. The country is fueled by a government which rules with an iron fist behind a stone wall. Everything that is deemed a requirement by the CCP is a go-ahead with pomp and show and whatever goes against their beliefs is trampled without debate. The CCP has some grand visions for China, which every government should but absolute unchallenged power over a billion people is a bit terrifying.
When the capital market copies, they have to by definition innovate on an existing product. Mechanisms to differentiate businesses and hence their products exist and hence the field of business management. I could go on and defend capital markets but it has its failures as well and not a few. For starters, there are no free and fair markets that exist anywhere. There is a constant endeavor to make markets free and fair and it is just that and endeavor. Clubhouse is turning out to be a ’successful’ product in such a market. Clubhouse has a great audience – the who’s who of media discuss issues arising in society today. From politics – foreign policies of middle eastern nations to bigotry and racism almost every topic I can think of has audiences and speakers 24/7 every week of the year. The founders Rohan and Paul are pleasant to approach and seem like receptive founders, reviewing recommendations and organizing townhalls every week. Clubhouse started out invite only and now the number of invites being given out is increasing every month. This exclusivity looked like a successful beta test. The air of exclusivity was an automatic promotion in the marketplace of ideas and also a mechanism to receive solicited feedback for improvements.
Discord servers record 4 billion minutes of conversation on a daily basis. The potential to improve algorithms based on the amount of audio data mined is huge. In February 2021 Clubhouse had 6 million users, 10x from December and was valued at $1bn, 10x from May 2020. Discord is still stuck with 100mn active monthly users despite being in the market for 5 more years. Clubhouse has access to Marc A. and Ben H. and them being on the platform brings their network – friends and family and their networks. While Discord has Accel and Greylock on their side as well, the only person I as a lay person I recognized on their board was Mitch Lasky. Does all this matter to the end consumer/ user? Not really the app in the market and its features should impact the product’s performance in the market as a revenue generator and yet there are a few missing pieces. Discord has been in the market longer, has better features and also had a larger original user base and yet it still seemed to be out of mainstream view for the longest time. The air of exclusivity was a marketing tactic which was perfectly used by Clubhouse but I wouldn’t attribute all of their success to it.
This blog is a product of my ideas. How I present it on the platform is the deployment of those ideas. However, the content isn’t the only thing will make it successful. It might be a pre-requisite but it’s not the only thing that will make this blog reader friendly. This might seem incredulous that something besides the content will make it more attractive to a reader, who thinks that he or she is only interested in the content. Human beings have preconceived notions that are actively engaged in disrupting logical thought process. First impressions matter, references matter, appearances matter much more than they should not. A product then is only a part of what utility it provides, some part of it is perceived utility that is conveyed by factors that are not related to the use of the product/ solution/ service. This might be much ado about nothing or this might be an important psychological phenomenon.
People and their identities are more important than who they are as individuals or what they bring to the table in terms of their skills. As products ourselves we need to build an ecosystem around ourselves in order to bring the best of this short experience. In the larger scheme of things there’s always that omnipresent question as to what exactly is the point of it all but I wouldn’t be surprised that majority will deny the answer even if it was staring at them in the face. What then is the point of the question either?