Founders: Paul Davison (CEO), Rohan Seth
Headquarters: San Francisco
Funding: $110 million (PitchBook)
Valuation: $4 billion (PitchBook)
Key technologies: Machine learning
Previous appearances on Disruptor 50 List: 0
As society entered a second year of social distance, some claimed that we hit "peak podcast," with little to do but consume content and even flood the zone with our own. That fatigue gave rise to Clubhouse, the buzzy audio-only social app that's similar to podcasts, but less prescriptive with its live, unfiltered content.
In just a year, the company has seen explosive growth and forced industry incumbents like Facebook, Twitter and Spotify to introduce similar audio products, or in some cases, make strategic acquisitions within the space.
The premise is relatively simple, since there's no video, pictures or text-based chat rooms. Users will log into the app and be greeted with a few live, virtual rooms, where they can see a list of the people participating. If they click on the room, the audio switches on and they can hear the conversation.
In February, Tesla CEO Elon Musk and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg hopped onto Clubhouse within a few days of each other, as the social chat app started to take off. It was quickly embraced by Silicon Valley types and it was backed by well-known venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz (whose co-founder also speaks on the app from time-to-time) in a January funding round that reportedly valued it at $1 billion.
But the number of monthly app installs worldwide has slowed, to 2.7 million downloads in March from 9.6 million in February, according to data from app analytics firm Sensor Tower. Still, investors like Andreessen seem unfazed by the sharp decline. Last month, the VC firm led a series C funding round, which includes new backers DST Global and Tiger Global Management, and reportedly values the company at $4 billion.
The company reports more than 10 million weekly active users, and since launching on Android earlier this month has added one million Android users.
The Clubhouse revenue model is similar to Patreon, which allows independent creators to receive funds directly from their audience. Patreon, ranked No. 49 on this year's CNBC Disruptor 50 list, takes a small fee from those transactions, though, and it's unclear how much or if Clubhouse would take a percentage of the subscriptions.
It also plays into a theme that users of social networks have complained about. If a creator can't make money on a given platform, they're likely to move onto another when it gains traction. Clubhouse is making a bet early in its existence that it can attract more users by offering them a way to make money.
One of Clubhouse's early investors is Ben Rubin, co-founder and former CEO of video chat app Houseparty. Last year, the New York Times reported that Facebook was in advanced discussions to acquire Houseparty but abandoned the deal due to concerns around heightened antitrust scrutiny. Additional early investors include Moxxie Ventures; Elad Gil, co-founder of Color Genomics; and Naval Ravikant, AngelList co-founder and one of the top investors in the world, based on a PitchBook analysis that compares exits to investments made.
—Contributed by Riley de León
SIGN UP for our weekly, original newsletter that goes beyond the list, offering a closer look at CNBC Disruptor 50 companies, and the founders who continue to innovate across every sector of the economy.