This week’s banishment of horde Scott Rogowsky was merely a sign of a ongoing onslaught to endorse who will lead HQ Trivia. According to mixed sources, over half of a startup’s staff sealed an inner petition to overthrow CEO Rus Yusupov who they saw as mismanaging a company. But Yusupov afterwards dismissed some core supporters of a mutiny, heading to a downward spin of suggestion that mirrors HQ’s plummeting App Store rank.
TechCrunch spoke to mixed sources informed with HQ Trivia’s inner troubles to square together how a live video mobile diversion went from blockbuster to scarcely bust. Two sources pronounced HQ recently usually had around $6 million in a bank yet was blazing over $1 million per month, definition a runway could be dwindling. But a early investors are demure to palm Yusupov any some-more cash. “
HQ reimagined gaming and mobile party with a launch of a 12-question trivia diversion in Aug 2017 where players all competed live in twice-daily shows with anyone who got all a answers right separate a income jackpot. The games felt obligatory given we could usually attend during designated times, fun to play opposite friends or strangers, and winning carried a stress no single-player or uninterrupted online diversion could match.
When TechCrunch wrote a initial coverage of HQ Trivia in Oct 2017, it had only 3500 indicate players. But by Jan it had climbed to a #3 diversion and #6 altogether app in a App Store, and grown to 2.38 million players by March. Quickly, copycats from China and Facebook entered a market. But they all lacked HQ’s tip arms — a heroic horde comedian Scott Rogowsky. Affectionately awarded nicknames like Quiz Daddy, Quiz Khalifa, Host Malone, and Trap Trebek from a “HQties” who played daily, he was a de facto face of a startup.
Yet HQ had some unsure foundations. Co-founder Colin Kroll, who’d also started Vine with Yusupov and sole it to Twitter, had been dismissed from Twitter after 18 months for being a bad manager, Recode reported. He’d also picked adult a repute of being creepy around womanlike employees, as good as Vine stars, TechCrunch has learned. Rapid expansion and an review by early HQ financier Jeremy Liew that found no gross bungle by Kroll paved a approach for a $15 million investment. The spin was led by Founders Fund’s Cyan Bannister, and it valued HQ during over $100 million.
Yusupov unsuccessful to interpret that income into postulated expansion and product innovation. His open function had already lifted flags. He yelled during a Daily Beast contributor after a outlet’s Taylor Lorenz interviewed Rogowsky though Yusupov’s approval, melancholy to glow a host. “You’re putting Scott’s pursuit in jeopardy. Is that what we want? . . . Please review me your story word for word,” Yusupov said. When he schooled Rogowsky had voiced his welfare for salad grill sequence Sweetgreen, Yusupov shouted “He can't contend that! We do not have a code understanding with Sweetgreen! Under no resources can he contend that.” The subsequent day, Yusupov secretly claimed he’d never threatened Rogowsky’s job.
With HQ’s bank criticism full, sources contend Yusupov was intensely delayed to make decisions, permitting HQ to stagnate. The newness of personification trivia for income around phone has begun to wear off, and people increasingly abandoned HQ’s pull notifications to join a subsequent game. But over bringing in some guest hosts and a choice to buy a second possibility after a wrong answer, HQ ceased to evolve. HQ fell to a #196 diversion on iOS and a #585 altogether app as indicate players waned.
That’s when things started to get a bit Game Of Thrones.
Pawns In A CEO War
Liew pushed for HQ to swap Kroll into a CEO spot in Sep 2018 while relocating Yusupov to Chief Creative Officer, that was reliable notwithstanding an HR censure opposite Kroll for assertive management. However, 3 sources tell TechCrunch that Yusupov pushed that HQ worker to record a censure opposite Kroll. As a WSJ reported after Kroll’s death, that worker after left a startup given they felt that they’d been exploited. “There was really what felt like plan there, and that’s also given that worker quiescent from a company.” one source said. Another source pronounced that staffer “believed Rus used their unhappiness about work to use them as a guaranty in his CEO fight and not given Rus indeed cared about solution things.”
Cyan of Founders Fund stepped down from HQ’s house after a preference to barter out Yusupov due to her firm’s repute of gripping founders in control, Recode’s Kurt Wagner reported. Sources contend that notwithstanding Kroll’s reputation, a staff believed in him. “Colin desired HQ and was dedicated to all a employees some-more than Rus. Rus cares about Rus. Colin cared about a content” a source tells me.
Three sources contend that in a unfortunate ploy to keep energy and forestall Kroll’s rise, Yusupov suggested Rogowsky, a comedian with no tech or government experience, be done CEO of HQ Trivia. He even suggested a association film a existence uncover about Rogowsky holding over. That thought was quick shot down as preposterous.
“It was a really personal recklessness tactic not to have Colin be CEO. It was not a professionally thought-out idea” a source tells me, yet another pronounced it was always tough to tell if Yusupov’s crazy ideas were jokes. Both Yusupov and HQ Trivia declined to respond to mixed requests for comment, yet we’ll refurbish if we hear back.
Then tragedy struck in December. Kroll, afterwards CEO, was found dead in his unit from a drug overdose. Employees were distraught over what would occur next. “Colin’s devise was to boat fast, and get new things out there” a source says, observant that Kroll had pushed for a recover of HQ’s initial new diversion form HQ Words modeled after Wheel Of Fortune. “He wasn’t ideal yet in a time he was in charge, a boat started to turn, yet when Rus took over again it was like a 9 months where we did nothing.”
By Feb 2019, HQ’s staff was fed up. Two sources endorse that 20 of a roughly 35 employees sealed a minute seeking a house to mislay Yusupov and settle a new CEO. With HQ’s download rate stability to sink, they feared he’d run a startup into a ground. One source suggested Yusupov competence rather have seen a whole startup come crashing down with a censure placed on a product than have it come to light that he played a vast palm in a fall. The tinge of a letter, that was never rigourously delivered yet sources trust a house knew of, wasn’t accusatory yet a defence for clarity about a company’s destiny and a staff’s pursuit security.
At a fast convened all-hands assembly in late February, HQ financier Liew told a association his account Lightspeed would support a hunt for a new CEO to reinstate Yusupov, and yield that new CEO with appropriation for 18 some-more months of runway. Liew told a staff he would step down from a house once that CEO was found, yet a hunt continues and so Liew stays on HQ’s board.
“Mostly everybody was on Jeremy’s side as no one wanted to work underneath Rus. Jeremy wasn’t perplexing to screw him over a approach Rus would screw other people over. He only wanted to do what was right, removing behind what everybody wanted” a source pronounced of Liew.
Instead, HQ’s house changed brazen with instituting a new executive decision-making cabinet stoical of Yusupov, HQ’s conduct of prolongation Nick Gallo, and VP of engineering Ben Sheats. Yusupov would sojourn halt CEO, and he continued to adhere to energy and there’s been small clarity about a CEO deputy process. Until a new CEO is found, HQ contingency maintain on a existent funds. The staff is “always disturbed about using out of runway” and are given deceptive answers when they ask care about how most income is left.
On Mar 1st, a cabinet emerged from a assembly and dismissed 3 employees — dual who had spearheaded a petition and been outspoken about Yusupov’s failings.
One who wasn’t dismissed was Rogowsky, notwithstanding sources observant during one indicate he’d attempted to classify a staff to go on strike. Other employees had been discreet about station adult to Yusupov. “Everyone was shocked of retaliation. Their fears have totally been validated” a source explains. Engineers and other staffers with clever practice prospects began to empty out of a company. Those left were only perplexing to reason onto their jobs. Without relocating care or a plan to retreat user shrinkage, recruiting replacements would infer difficult.
Yusupov stays on a board, along with Tinder CEO Elie Seidman who Yusupov allocated to his additional common seat. Liew retains his chair until a new CEO is found and given that seat. And Kroll’s chair appears to have left to Lightspeed partner Merci Victoria Grace. Lightspeed and Cyan of Founders Fund declined to respond to requests for comment.
[Update: Seidman tells TechCrunch that a he sees a inner onslaught for a CEO purpose as over now that Yusupov has supposed that a new CEO will be installed. That hunt is relocating along, and a CEO selected will news to a house yet differently be given full liberty to run a association as they choose. That includes carrying employing and banishment energy over Yusupov. Seidman righteously believes HQ has contributed critical ideas to a mobile gaming ecosystem, and now it’s a startup’s shortcoming to spin those ideas into a solid business.]
Tensions during HQ and a enterprise to variegate his prospects led Rogowsky to collect adult a side gig hosting ball speak uncover ChangeUp on a DAZN network, TMZ reported this week. He’d hoped to continue hosting HQ during a large weekend contests. But tensions with Yusupov and a CEO’s enterprise for a horde to sojourn exclusively during HQ led negotiations to green causing Rogowsky to leave a startup entirely. TechCrunch was initial to news that he’s been transposed by former HQ guest horde Matt Richards, who Yusupov bluntly told me Friday had polled aloft than Rogowsky in a SurveyMonkey consult of HQ’s tip players.
In tweets, Rogowsky suggested that that “Sadly, it won’t be probable for me to continue hosting HQ parallel as we had hoped” noting, “I wasn’t given a pleasantness of a farewell show.” Finding a approach to safety Rogowsky’s ties to HQ expected would have been best for a startup. TechCrunch had lifted a concern a year ago that unless Rogowsky was scrupulously sealed in with an adequate equity vesting report during HQ, he could leave. Or worse, he could be poached by Facebook, Snapchat, or YouTube to horde an HQ competitor.
“Rus is a idealist yet not a good leader. He is intensely manipulative in an sterile way. He’s a dude who only cares a lot about his reputation” a source noted. “A lot of a disastrous view among staff is a faith that he cares some-more about his repute than a association itself.”
HQ’s subsequent try to revitalise expansion appears to be HQ Editor’s Picks, is described as “a new live uncover on your phone where a horde shows humorous viral videos and we endorse on who gets paid.” Finally it seems peaceful to welcome a intensity of interactive live video party outward of trivia and puzzles. HQ Editor’s Picks will face an ascending battle, given HQ forsaken out of a tip 1500 iOS apps final month, according to App Annie. Sensor Tower estimates that HQ saw only 8 percent as many downloads in Mar 2019 as Mar 2018.
After a detriment of a suggestion animal Rogowsky, a employees’ selected personality Kroll, a organisation of maestro financier Cyan, and a product momentum, tough questions are what sojourn for HQ Trivia. The company’s struggles have inept a swell towards anticipating a new viral automechanic or diversion format that attracts users. While HQ Words is fun, it’s too identical to a trivia foe to change a startup’s trajectory. And all of a in-fighting could shock off any talent anticipating to spin HQ around. Unfortunately, securing an additional life for a diversion will take a some-more than a $3.99 in-app purchase.