In December 2020, the first Christmas holiday in the middle of the pandemic, Nigerians, looking for something to light up their long days of staying at home, and making more than normal sometimes endless trips to the fridge, in droves joined ClubHouse, the new audio-only app that has seen the likes of Kevin Hart, Elon Musk and Oprah open account.
For Ife Olarinde, what she saw before her was an opportunity, a farm of endless data for her PhD thesis on how social media can be a positive impact on the outcomes of entrepreneurs of African descent.
Months before ClubHouse became the centre of extremist leftist and rightist political views with no middle ground, it was exclusively populated by Silicon Valley set who host funding talks in funding rooms. Ife Olarinde planned to tap into those rooms and observe the behaviours of people of African descent and accelerate the submission of her thesis. Then she started The Cool House, and her mission changed for both good and bad, depending on who you ask.
“I realised it would be an effective digital platform to build an effective digital ecosystem to help people of African descent, most especially entrepreneurs of African descent,” she said in an exclusive interview with Technext.
How Ife gathered momentum for her room
First, Ife Olarinde made her Morning Motivation rooms permanent and added the check-in rooms for evenings. Thus, creating two staple rooms for Nigerians on the app.
Then, she introduced exciting conversations. For instance. when American woman, Bea Lewis alleged that she dated Africa’s richest man, Aliko Dangote, Olarinde latched onto it with a room on the subject, running for days. Soon, screen recordings from The Cool House rooms started making the rounds on Instagram gossip blogs.
Subsequently, her room conversations about women issues became quite popular and Ife became a lightning rod on the app. As a result, the popular opinions about her works were largely split into two: those that agreed with her and those that didn’t.
Whenever there was a trending topic, Olarinde had a room running on the matter.
The ripple effects of these rooms sometimes spill over into other social media platforms and other times included the police, like her debacle with the YouTuber who goes seemly by the moniker Oluwa Blanco.
On building the platform and brand
“We were very intentional about impact,” she says.
Ife only wanted to “build an inclusive community,” she said. But how did she end up building one of the largest active communities on the app?
By being strategic and setting goals to be a leading club on clubhouse she said. “It was premeditated, and we had a goal to be the largest and most responsive community of African descent on clubhouse…We began to grow the club as soon as I identified it as a digital platform which will enable us to achieve our goal.”
Her vision which she says is “to transform the world through the power of digital media and community building,” keeps her tethered to building her club, even as ClubHouse isn’t fully monetised yet. She recently launched a spinoff club The Cool House Uncensored for paying members only, but she insists, the monetary gain has never been her focus.
The Cool House has a custom email, a news website, an Instagram account with over 90,000 followers, members of staff on its payroll and has hosted rooms in partnership with brands like Sunlight. On ClubHouse, having 1,000 followers already catapult users to influencer status. Olarinde has 15,000 plus followers. The Cool House has almost 60,000 members.
“If you look at it retrospectively,” she says about her decision to pay people to moderate rooms on her club, “ClubHouse functions very similarly to how radio stations operate. It’s hardly possible to keep a community going without content creators and a communication plan. So we recruited staff to help us get things going.”
On monetising ClubHouse
“For us, money was never a priority, impact and mindset shift has always been our priority,” she says.
Although she adds that “a reward system for solid platforms like ours” is essential. She says that the paying member’s model of monetisation could be “the future when it comes to revenue generation, but ClubHouse needs to create a payment gateway to facilitate the sustenance of such a model.”
“Clubhouse needs to be more inclusive of African creators when it comes to monetisation,” she adds. “This will encourage highly cerebral content creators to keep going on the app. The main satisfaction we get at The Cool House is impacting lives, transforming culture and driving important conversations.”
On ClubHouse drama
Olarinde says that she isn’t about “the drama-driven rooms” on ClubHouse but only wants “the right balance.”
“Clubhouse must also continue to encourage intellectual conversations,” she says, “not just the drama driven rooms. Having the right balance when it comes to conversations and creating an active reward system for creators would be a contributive factor in keeping it alive.”
Olarinde has been on the receiving end of the wrath of people who disagree with some of the rooms she moderates. But this hasn’t deterred her from pushing the conversations to unfettered lengths.
“I love to have important, interesting and raw conversations,” she says. “I am keen on giving people the opportunity to voice out, to speak their truth, their mind and their honest perspectives on issues…So the conflict of opinions is always welcome.”
She adds that she doesn’t believe in people “censoring the truth and their opinions to fit into societal norms. Fortunately or unfortunately people tend to sensationalise these conversations because it’s not a mainstream approach within most African communities.”
In the age of social media when people with dissenting views don’t get along, how does Olarinde manage to retain members in The Cool House?
“I believe people are genuinely attracted to quality and authentic conversations. They may disagree about certain things which are absolutely normal. This is because we all cannot think alike. In fact, if we do think alike it waters down the authenticity and quality of those conversations…People really desire an intersection between quality, interesting, informative and intellectual conversations and the cool house has managed to be at the intersection of all these.”
On the future of The Cool House
What does the future hold for The Cool House?
“The future of The Cool House is to be the first port of call for all forms of important conversations which needs to be had across Africa,” Ife Olarinde said.
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