It might have seemed like excitement about exclusive audio-only chat app Clubhouse couldn’t get any more intense. Then, in the wake of the GameStop trading frenzy, Elon Musk’s debut on the app to quiz Robinhood founder Vladimir Tenev drew even more attention—including in China, where a slew of e-commerce sites are now offering would-be users the chance to buy their way in to the club.
Clubhouse was launched last April by Silicon Valley entrepreneur Paul Davison and ex-Googler Rohan Seth. Amid the lockdowns worldwide, many joined the app, still in beta mode, to discuss or listen in on topics ranging from politics to tech in an array of chatrooms. Along with the allure of its exclusivity, the app’s major draw is the chance for users to join conversations hosted by celebrities like Musk, about trading app Robinhood’s impact on Wall Street, bitcoin, and brain implants.
The Tesla founder’s appearance, in particular, ignited curiosity about the app in China, where he enjoys a major fan following. On China’s Twitter-like Weibo, the hashtag #Clubhouse invite code was at one point trending on the platform shortly after Chinese media reported on Musk’s debut. Although the app is only available on iPhone, and can only be downloaded by users who can switch to an Apple account registered outside of mainland China, many Chinese users are still begging for or purchasing invitation codes.
On Xianyu, a second-hand goods platform that’s part of Alibaba, there are dozens of sellers selling the codes for prices ranging from 150 yuan ($23) to 400 yuan.
“This app is super fun! [Suitable] for those who would like to try new things!” wrote a seller on Xianyu. The app allows those who managed to join it to invite two others.
On Taobao, another e-commerce platform under Alibaba, the invite codes are also being sold at a price of around 188 yuan.
As a relatively new foreign service, Clubhouse hasn’t yet been blocked by China’s great firewall. So many of its Chinese users, largely tech investors and professionals, are using the space to talk about topics that would otherwise be censored back home, such as democracy.
“So the reason for the craze about Clubhouse is because we finally can find a corner to (temporarily) talk freely?” asked one user on Weibo. Meanwhile, others are also using the app to teach Mandarin to foreign users, according to a Chinese blogger who recently signed up (link in Chinese) for the app.
It might be only a matter of time before Clubhouse gets banned in China, given Beijing’s increasingly tight grip on freedom of speech online. Many also wonder when Chinese developers will come up with their own version of Clubhouse, which is so far known only within the country’s elite circles.
Justin Sun, a Chinese crypto entrepreneur who rose to fame after he successfully bid for a lunch date with Warren Buffet in 2019, quickly saw a marketing opportunity in the Clubhouse craze. Sun took to Twitter yesterday to announce that he has launched a Chinese version of Clubhouse named “TWO.”