Plain Vanilla Games, the company behind ultra-hot trivia app QuizUp, has raised a $22 million Series B Round of financing. The financing was led by Sequoia Capital, with participation from all existing investors, including Tencent, Greycroft Partners, IDG Ventures, BOLDstart Ventures, CrunchFund (owned by TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington), and MESA+.
QuizUp is an iPhone app that pits users against one another in either real-time or asynchronous trivia matchups. Users choose from up to 300 different topics and can challenge friends or strangers to answer a fast, six-question round of trivia questions.
It’s incredibly fun, and has become extremely popular over the last several weeks, with more than 5 million downloads since launch.
This round of financing is the third that Plain Vanilla has raised since the beginning of the year, but it’s by far the biggest, and brings the total amount raised to $27 million. Along with the new cash, the company is adding Sequoia’s Roelof Botha to its board of directors.
The game studio’s last round of financing — the addition of $2 million from Sequoia and e.Ventures — was timed basically right around the time of QuizUp’s launch, which means the company took money before it knew that it had a hit on its hands.
At the time, Plain Vanilla was looking for a little insurance and some money to fund marketing around the launch of the game. What it found instead was that QuizUp spread like wildfire, thanks to impressive word-of-mouth and growth through social channels.
“We didn’t really need the money just before launch, but we thought of it as an insurance thing,” CEO Thor Fridriksson told me in a phone interview. “In retrospect we probably shouldn’t have raised then. The dilution is higher when taking money on a pre-launch valuation versus now.”
Growth Since Launch
The latest investment in Plain Vanilla was made after QuizUp spent several weeks at or near the top of the Apple App Store charts. Released in late November, QuizUp has averaged about a million downloads per week, racking up more than 5 million downloads since launch.
“It’s the dream of any entrepreneur — you work on something for such a long time and then when you release it, it’s a hit,” Fridriksson said. While pure download numbers have been impressive, the company has been even more encouraged by continued interest in the game, even several weeks after launch.
“The funny thing is that we had a really good launch, but we’re used to seeing games that follow a growth curve where they have a big spike in the beginning and then growth slows down after a week or so,” Fridriksson said. Until recently, he noted, QuizUp had been in the top five or top 10 in the app store since launch.
(The app has been bumped down a bit in the rankings over recent days, likely due to new or first-time iPhone owners adding must-have apps like Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Snapchat.)
But what’s more impressive than its download numbers is the amount of engagement that Plain Vanilla is seeing within the app. Users typically spend an average of 30 minutes a day playing matches, messaging friends, and participating in discussion boards.
Those discussion boards might be one of the app’s best-kept secrets. Each of QuizUp’s nearly 300 topics has one, and altogether, users are posting more than 100,000 comments a day in those discussion forums, according to Fridriksson.
Thanks to QuizUp’s impressive launch, the company has had its pick of investment partners to choose from. But it decided to go back to Sequoia and add partner Roelof Botha to its board.
Botha brings with him a wealth of expertise in social and mobile startups. The former CFO of PayPal has invested in a series of startups with huge, high-profile exits, including YouTube, Tumblr, and Instagram. He also sits on the boards of EventBrite, Square, TokBox, Jawbone and, most recently, secret-sharing app Whisper.
But the investment follows a much longer courtship between Plain Vanilla and Sequoia. Botha told me by phone that he met Fridriksson about 18 months ago, and has been following Plain Vanilla’s development of the game mechanics and technology behind QuizUp ever since.
Botha said he wanted to invest even back then, but that it was challenging to make the case for putting money into a company based in Iceland that was pre-launch. It’s worth noting that he did connect Fridriksson with angel and seed investors, and Sequoia put a small amount into Plain Vanilla’s Series A.
But once QuizUp was out it the wild, it seems like making a larger investment was an easy decision. “After launch, [QuizUp] just started taking off like a rocket ship. How many apps have this type of engagement?” he asked.
But he believes there’s an opportunity to make QuizUp much bigger.
As quickly as QuizUp has grown, it’s important to note that the app is still only available on the iPhone, and still targeted just to English-language speakers. As a result, there’s a huge opportunity to expand to new platforms and new geographies.
The next step will likely be a launch on Android, which opens QuizUp to a gigantic new user base. After all, about 70 percent of smartphone users are on Android, according to research from Kantar Worldpanel ComTech. But Plain Vanilla is also looking to release an iPad app soon that will bring its trivia experience to tablet users.
In addition, there’s an even bigger opportunity for QuizUp to reach more of an international audience. That includes localizing the app to support different languages, but also means adopting more trivia that is of interest to international users.
“Our most popular topics in each country are the ones that are connected to pop culture of that country,” Fridriksson said. “We’re focusing then on sourcing local content for the things that those people are passionate about.”
QuizUp does that by turning to its community of users for questions. While it sourced many of that original 200,000 questions on the app itself before launch, now that it has a huge (and growing) number of passionate users, it’s begun accepting user-submitted content for its trivia questions.
With the help of its new funding, Plain Vanilla is in good shape to get its app in as many hands as possible. “It’s incredibly important for us to scale up and get to other markets and other platforms,” Fridriksson said.
Now it’s just a matter of executing on that plan.