To Silicon Valley, Alpha Exploration’s Clubhouse is the breakthrough social media platform of 2021, with millions of new users joining every month. The audio-only app has gained notoriety for it’s ability to fast-track human connection, both for business networking and personal connections. However recent reports have led many to question the long term survival of the platform in the face of competitors Twitter Spaces and Facebook’s upcoming clone. A perfect story to encompass Clubhouse’s strength and weakness is that of serial founder and investor Mario Nawfal, one of the platform’s most influential business personalities.
Mario started his journey on Clubhouse in the final week of January, with no followers and no connections on the app. Day one saw him start his first room with 13 attendees. As a founder and CEO of multiple 8-figure companies, Mario leveraged his large team to connect with other leaders on Clubhouse, and within a week, his room reached over 1k listeners and he began moderating some of the biggest rooms on the platform. As his momentum kicked off at lightening speed, it was crushed within hours…
In mid January, an influential and well-connected moderator on Clubhouse blackmailed Mario to pay a heft five-figure sum, threatening to have his account blocked by other moderators, preventing him from entering most of the major rooms. Clubhouse’s algorithm prevents a person from entering a room if someone who has blocked them is a speaker or moderator in that room, and for Mario this meant his ability to reach a new audience to grow his following was essentially crushed. By the end of the day, Mario’s growth was halted as he refused to be blackmailed. His rooms collapsed by over 75% and his growth came to a screeching halt. 48 hours later, Mario agreed to pay the sum as he felt he had no choice.
This was not Mario’s only brush with drama. Two weeks after this incident (which is a LONG time in the Clubhouse ecosystem), Mario was leading the biggest daily business room on the platform, The Roundtable, with his close group of moderators Samit Patel, Matt Andrews, Nick Bradley and Sohail Khan, all leading figures on Clubhouse. Daily celebrity guests were the norm on the Roundtable including the likes of Naveen Jain, Jay Shetty, Tai Lopez, Jesse Itzler, Grant Cardone and Les Brown.
One morning, hours before a flight, unsubstantiated rumors began circulating about Mario being affiliated with another heavily influential figure on the platform. Such rumors are commonplace on Clubhouse as rivalry is strong among influencers, however this was not something Mario anticipated. For 48 hours Mario had to address the matter in various rooms, dispelling the multiple rumors in front of aggressive audiences in the thousands. The result was positive as Mario’s momentum continued and his rooms became the highlight of Clubhouse.
On February 9th, Mario was again mistakenly linked to other course sellers on Clubhouse by celebrity millionaire Jason Calacanis, who requested his followers to report the accounts of multiple influencers on the platform, especially Mario as he was seen as a leader with significant reach and influence. Again, despite never even selling a course, Mario was falsely labeled as a seller of scam courses with no evidence whatsoever. Mario’s account was “temporarily suspended” on Clubhouse on February 10th and is still suspended as of the writing of this article.
Mario’s story is not unique, with many similar incidents of users being harassed, blocked and suspended for political, personal or ethical motives. In the same period as Mario’s saga, life and business coach JT Foxx was also reported and temporarily suspended, with multiple rooms forming in response to his various actions. Multiple leaders on Clubhouse labeled JT as a racist, sexist scammer. To this date, we have not received evidence to support those claims. Angel investor Manny Fernandez was another victim of false claims, being reported as a scam and harassed in front of large audiences.
Such behavior could be seen as drama to some, however to Clubhouse it is a serious threat to the app’s existence. Recent reports have surfaced of Mario running rooms on Clubhouse’s arch rival, Twitter. Although Mario’s account is only temporarily suspended on Clubhouse, his rumored move to Twitter Spaces is a significant development as it demonstrates a concerning potential trend. Despite Twitter Spaces only being in the very early beta stage, developers at the company have stressed in their regular events on the app that they are moving rapidly, open-sourcing the development process and incorporating the feedback of the few beta users currently using Spaces.
Mario’s ongoing story has rocked the Clubhouse ecosystem, and many are questioning whether this demonstrates a kink in the hot new app’s armor, and whether it will survive the year. Twitter’s massive reach of over 330 million users (23% of the internet population), and an engagement of half a billion tweets posted daily, offers the mature platform more reach and a more advanced algorithm designed to prevent issues experienced by Mario and other Clubhouse users. The next few weeks could determine the fate of Clubhouse and it’s ability to disrupt the incumbents in fragile social media landscape.