- Clubhouse Media Group built a business running a chain of TikTok influencer mansions.
- Talent, who lived rent-free, said CMG’s CEO often yelled and would try to set them up on unwanted dates.
- CMG filed two defamation suits against former house members who spoke out in February.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
At the end of a long driveway in Beverly Hills, California, sits a 12,000-square-foot mansion designed by the mid-century architect William Beckett.
The multimillion-dollar home, just a few minutes’ drive from the Playboy Mansion and a celebrity hot spot, the Beverly Hills Hotel, is decked out with a wine cellar, a home theater, and a meditation garden.
For the past year, it’s been home to a rotating cast of Gen Z internet stars who live there rent-free. In exchange for the luxe setup, dubbed “Clubhouse BH,” the influencers are expected to create branded videos for Clubhouse Media Group, a publicly traded company that runs a chain of lavish “collab” houses and pays Clubhouse BH’s monthly $42,000 rent.
CMG was cofounded by real-estate operator Amir Ben-Yohanan in January 2020. Since then, Clubhouse (which has no affiliation with the audio app) has launched nine content houses across Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and Europe. Six are still active, and more houses are in the works.
In the 15-second videos that its tenants posted on TikTok, living in a Clubhouse mansion appeared to be a dream gig. But insiders said the lifestyle came at a cost. Behind the scenes, some influencers said, Ben-Yohanan inserted himself into the personal lives of CMG house members — many of them still teenagers — in a manner that made them uncomfortable.
A former Clubhouse BH member, in her early 20s, recalled when Ben-Yohanan, 48, contacted her about a surprise date last year.
“I was single, and I remember Amir texting me — I guess he had some guests coming over to the house — and he said he had this guy that was going to be my boyfriend,” the former house member said. She recalled that Ben-Yohanan told her, “Make sure you look nice,” and, “Make sure you put your makeup on.”
“I was just like, ‘What? Who do you think you are?'” the former house member said. “If that doesn’t give you a picture of how they treated us — it was sick.”
Seven influencers and staff members who were formerly affiliated with CMG houses said Ben-Yohanan sometimes arranged dates for house members and attempted to set them up with other members or popular creators in order to film attention-grabbing content.
“He just cared about making drama,” said one former member of Clubhouse Next, a CMG mansion that shut down.
“He only cared about the numbers,” another former member of Clubhouse Next added.
In interviews with 19 people who have worked with Clubhouse, including former and current house members and staffers, sources said there was a volatile atmosphere at the homes, and that Ben-Yohanan bullied influencers and spoke to them in ways they found to be inappropriate and, at times, misogynistic.
For two influencers, speaking out against Ben-Yohanan and CMG had serious consequences. In March, CMG filed two defamation lawsuits against former house members alleging they made “false and defamatory statements” about the company and its management. It claimed over $2.5 million in damages. Several former members told Insider that CMG had threatened to sue them as well.
“The community is harsh,” one former CMG influencer said. “I’m very scared.”
The influencer added that a CMG staffer told them they’d be sued if they said anything.
Clubhouse Media Group provided Insider with the following statement:
“When Clubhouse Media Group formed, it endeavored to bring an earnest, professional approach to the content-house industry, an industry that is still very much in its infancy. As a startup, we have had our share of learning lessons and challenges. Thankfully, we’ve also gotten a lot right. It has been through our challenges that we aim to grow, learn, and course-correct for the good of our team of creators, our employees, and the industry as a whole.”
‘They were just trying to manipulate all of our roles in the house, almost as if we were playing characters instead of being ourselves’
A few years ago, Ben-Yohanan didn’t take TikTok seriously.
“Like many adults, I looked down on it,” he told The Atlantic. “I thought they were just messing around, dancing.”
His main business at the time was West of Hudson Properties, a New Jersey real-estate investment firm he founded that now has over $300 million in assets, according to CMG filings. But when he moved to LA and began meeting people in the social-media industry, Ben-Yohanan saw a business opportunity.
“It seemed to me like the Gold Rush, like the Wild West,” he told The Atlantic.
Ben-Yohanan; Simon Yu, Clubhouse’s COO; the TikTok star Daisy Keech; and Christian Young, Clubhouse’s president, launched the company’s first location, Clubhouse BH, in March 2020. By August, the company had four influencer houses in LA: Clubhouse BH, Clubhouse Next, Clubhouse FTB, and the ironically named Not a Content House. Droves of internet stars moved into the mansions — many of them in their teens, some with parents in tow.
While Clubhouse BH attracted social-media stars between the ages of 18 and 24, CMG’s other houses skewed younger. Clubhouse Next’s creators were mostly between 17 and 21, and the influencers in Not a Content House were even younger — between 15 and 20.
Interest in Clubhouse BH was strong from the outset. The group amassed more than 1 million fans on its TikTok account and was written up in outlets such as The New York Times and Page Six.
Despite the success, some of CMG’s talent said they became wary of Ben-Yohanan.
A former Clubhouse Next member said Ben-Yohanan and the Clubhouse management treated their lives like “a game.”
“They were just trying to manipulate all of our roles in the house, almost as if we were playing characters instead of being ourselves,” a former Clubhouse BH member said.
Sometimes, Ben-Yohanan was at the heart of that drama, former house members said.
A number of former members or staffers who worked with Ben-Yohanan said he would yell at CMG influencers or the company’s staff and make inappropriate comments.
Two former members, both female, said they heard Ben-Yohanan make what they viewed as misogynistic statements, telling female members on more than one occasion that they were “mentally weak.” One former Clubhouse BH member said Ben-Yohanan once told her that she was “not mentally stable enough to work in a house” like theirs because she was always with her boyfriend.
In a since unlisted February video on Not a Content House’s main YouTube account, group member Sabrina Quesada, 19, recalled Ben-Yohanan ridiculing female influencers’ concerns surrounding their emotional well-being.
“There was this one time where we all literally sitting around the table like, ‘Our mental health is so insanely bad. Like you were overworking us,’ and he replies with, ‘You guys are probably on your period,'” Quesada said in the video. A former CMG staffer told Insider they recalled the incident, but that they remembered Ben-Yohanan using the phrase “times of the month.”
On a February 14 podcast, Not a Content House member Devyn Winkler, 17, described an incident where she said Ben-Yohanan asked her and a female talent coordinator to get on a stripper pole while riding in a party bus in Las Vegas.
“It was fucked,” Winkler told the podcast hosts. “I just don’t want to be in this house anymore,” Winkler said she texted a group of CMG members and staff.
Insiders said that Ben-Yohanan could be relentless when it came to setting up the CMG influencers on dates.
“He was very aggressive when it came to the whole dating scene,” said a former member of Clubhouse Next, who was encouraged to go on dates by Ben-Yohanan.
“It just was a very uncomfortable, weird feeling,” she said.
Another former member of Clubhouse Next said that Ben-Yohanan was persistent when it came to the fix-ups. One time, when she declined a date, he made a comment about her sleeping with a lot of people, the former member said.
Ben-Yohanan didn’t mince words when he was angry, insiders said, creating what they felt was a stressful workplace.
“It was a very fast-paced, very high stress level environment,” a former staffer said. “Amir’s approach was like a bull in a china shop. You kind of had to deal with it.”
One former Clubhouse BH member said she would “hide in my room” when Ben-Yohanan came to the house.
“Everybody would just walk on eggshells every time he would come around because we didn’t know what kind of mood that we were going to get,” the member said. “It was either going to be ‘We are family. Love you guys,’ and then the next day he’s texting people threatening to kick them out or fire them.”
Talent and Ben-Yohanan “argued almost every single day for eight months,” she added.
“We all joke about having a trauma bond now because it was so insane how normal we thought it was.”
‘I can have you gone by tomorrow’
In the social-media influencer business, follower count can be a key factor in landing sponsorship deals. Former CMG talent said it was a fixation of Ben-Yohanan’s.
Former house members said that Ben-Yohanan would regularly comment on members’ follower counts, reminding talent that they were replaceable and lucky to be a part of a CMG group.
One former member of Clubhouse Next said Ben-Yohanan criticized her for being “disrespectful” and “ungrateful,” and told her, “I can have you gone by tomorrow. I can have somebody fill up your room.”
In a text message viewed by Insider, Ben-Yohanan ridiculed another member for their relatively low follower count.
“Basically, every week they would pick someone new to bully, and they would kind of bully the people with less followers first,” a former Clubhouse BH member said.
In early 2020, when a former Clubhouse BH confronted Ben-Yohanan about yelling at another member, the CEO told them it was a “business tactic,” and that the house member would “come crawling back.” A second former Clubhouse BH member said they recalled the incident and felt that Ben-Yohanan had acted “rude” and “demeaning” during the exchange.
While one influencer — Ava Tortorici, a 20-year-old TikTok star — said she had no negative experiences with management, a number of past members said they felt used by the company.
“They would literally treat us like a dollar sign,” Quesada said in the February YouTube video. “There was never any concern of, like, how we felt, if we were being overworked.”
‘No one should ever have to deal with what I know these girls went through’
As it looked to build out its collab-house empire, Clubhouse Media Group didn’t just anger some of its talent. The company also drew the ire of its neighbors, landlords, and the city of Beverly Hills. Some of those people were frustrated that Clubhouse influencers were filming or throwing parties during the pandemic, two sources familiar with the company’s rental relationships said. Keith Sterling, Beverly Hills’ public information manager, confirmed to Insider that neighbors had complained about partying at Clubhouse BH, and that the city’s code-enforcement team had referred the complaints to the city prosecutor.
And then there was the incident in late August, when the owner of the 4,000-square-foot home where Not a Content House lived filed an eviction complaint saying the group’s sublet of the property violated the original lease.
“Imagine going to LA at the ages of 16 and 15 and coming back to your house and having all your clothes and shit thrown out,” Winkler said, referring to when that house’s property manager tried to kick them out.
A former staffer confirmed the incident and said that CMG management was able to find a replacement house within a few days.
A few months later, two of Not a Content House’s founding members, Madi Monroe and Lauren Kettering, left the group.
In a January 11 Instagram post, Monroe wrote that she left NACH because “management was weird.”
A few weeks later, four NACH members — Winkler, Quesada, Cynthia Parker (16), and Anna Shumate (18) — announced their departure as well.
Parker placed the blame squarely on Ben-Yohanan’s shoulders.
“Our boss Amir is pretty much the sole purpose of why we’re leaving, because he does not know how to business teenage girls or speak to them,” Parker said in the February YouTube confessional.
The video prompted an online reckoning for CMG, with influencers formerly affiliated with the company posting about their own experiences working with CMG.
“So sad. No one should ever have to deal with what I know these girls went through,” Abby Rao, a member of the original Clubhouse BH, commented on an Instagram post about the NACH video.
“When everyone hated on you for getting ‘kicked out’ of clubhouse but really you left cuz of sketchy management,” wrote Katie Sigmond, another original member of Clubhouse BH.
But days later, the NACH YouTube video was unlisted, and a new video was uploaded to the group’s channel. NACH had been rebranded “Just a House.”
Winkler said in the new video, “There was nothing wrong with the whole company,” adding that Ben-Yohanan and Chase Zwernemann, the former head of partnerships at CMG, were the problem.
The NACH brand had become an important asset for CMG, having amassed an audience of 2.7 million TikTok followers and 700,000 Instagram fans. Presumably to win back the house’s stars, changes were made beyond just the house’s name.
Ben-Yohanan stepped away from the day-to-day operation of the house, though he remained the company’s CEO, with full voting control over CMG’s overall business. Zwernemann left CMG. All but one of the members of Not a Content House opted to join Just a House.
“As I was made aware of concerns within our content houses, I immediately made a concerted effort to refocus my attention within the company and hired key personnel to assume all talent relations moving forward including a Chief of Staff and a Human Resources professional, ” Ben-Yohanan told Insider in a statement, highlighting the creation of an Influencer Advisory Panel, as well. “I believe that these actions have fostered a more creative, collaborative, and beneficial environment for our creators.”
CMG attacks against ‘a campaign of misinformation,’ claiming $2.5 million in damages
In the wake of the NACH drama, Clubhouse Media Group said it wanted to elevate its “professional standards” and respond “to lessons it learned during its first year,” according to a March 5 press release.
CMG’s new advisory panel promised to provide “support for young influencer talent” and help CMG implement “new protocols and practices that ensure the highest levels of security, safety, and care for influencers in the rapidly developing world of content creation.”
But behind the scenes, CMG was waging a legal battle against two of its former moneymakers.
Three days after announcing the advisory panel, Clubhouse Media Group filed two lawsuits against former house members who had spoken out against the company alleging defamation. Combined, the two lawsuits claimed over $2.5 million in damages.
The suit against Kettering, then 17, accused her of spreading “a campaign of misinformation” after leaving NACH.
It mentioned a February podcast that Kettering appeared on in which she called NACH’s management “very controlling” and said she “was losing a lot more money” than she could have been making. The suit claimed those statements were false.
CMG also filed a suit against Leslie Golden, a former Clubhouse BH influencer, saying she spread “falsehoods and lies” that denigrated CMG’s “business model and competence in operating a content house.”
The suit also alleged that Golden uttered “false and defamatory statements” that Ben-Yohanan “engaged in the use of illicit drugs.”
‘You’d be surprised how many Amirs there are’
In an industry where drama sells and the barriers between work and private life are blurred, who gets to determine the narrative around Clubhouse Media Group is contentious. While influencers have direct platforms to speak to their audiences about their experiences, the company needs to maintain some degree of control in order to craft an investor-friendly image in the public market.
But despite pushback from influencers, CMG pushed forward, expanding into new locations at a rapid pace.
In February, it launched a new creator house in Las Vegas. In March, it announced plans to expand into Orlando and signed YouTube stars the Dobre Brothers. The group is expected to move into a 10,000-square-foot Beverly Hills mansion called “The Dobre House.”
In April, Andrew Omori, a partner at the VC firm Andreessen Horowitz, joined Clubhouse’s advisory board.
CMG, which was taken public via a reverse takeover in November, has seen its stock spike this year, hitting a market cap of around $2.5 billion in mid-February. Multiple outlets, including Bloomberg and The Financial Times, wondered whether the company’s spike in value came from investors confusing CMG with the audio chat-room app Clubhouse.
CMG’s stock price has since dipped to $8 per share at a market cap of $742 million. The company reported a net loss of $2,577,721 and negative cash flow from operating activities of $1,967,551 for the fiscal year ending December 31.
“Clubhouse Media has a history of operating losses and its management has concluded that factors raise substantial doubt about its ability to continue as a going concern,” the company wrote in an April filing.
To drum up interest in its most recent stock offering, CMG introduced a set of “investor perks,” offering some buyers Clubhouse hoodies, a photo shoot at a Clubhouse location, and dance lessons or a workout session with its talent. It’s also considering granting equity to its influencers, telling CNBC that it had already offered stock to one of its creators.
Despite its history of operating losses and recent public spats with influencers, Clubhouse doesn’t appear to be having any issues attracting young members hungry for fame.
There’s a “waitlist of over a hundred people waiting to take our spots,” Ben-Yohanan would tell creators, a former Clubhouse Next member said.
“A lot of influencers want to be in a content house in LA,” another former Clubhouse Next member said. “You’d be surprised how many Amirs there are.”
Source: Read Full Article