HQ Trivia is struggling after a mutiny failed to oust its CEO. Downloads per month are down 92% versus last June according to Sensor Tower. And now four sources confirm that HQ laid off staff members this week. One said about 20% of staff was let go, and another said six to seven employees were departing. That aligns with Digiday reporter Kerry Flynn’s tweet that 7 employees were let go, bringing HQ to fewer than 30 (shrinking from 35 to 28 staffers would be a 20% drop).
[Update 2/14/2020: HQ Trivia has shut down and laid off all staff. Read our full report here.]
That will leave the company short-handed as it attempts to diversify revenue with the upcoming launch of monthly subscriptions. “HQ Words Everyday. Coming next month . . . Bigger prizes . . . More ways to win. $9.99/mo. subscription,” the company tweeted from the account for its second game, the Wheel of Fortune-style HQ Words. The company has been trying to regain momentum with new hosts since the departure of Quiz Daddy, aka Scott Rogowsky, HQ Trivia’s original host.
The cuts hit HQ’s HR, marketing and product engineering teams, according to LinkedIn profiles of employees let go. The cuts could further hamper morale at the startup following a tough first half of the year. HQ Trivia and co-founder Rus Yusupov did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
Following the tragic death of co-founder and CEO Colin Kroll, Yusupov retook control. But staff found him difficult to work with as he’d allowed the product to stagnate and popularity to decline. Yusupov was slow to make changes to the app, and “no one wanted to work under Rus,” a source told me.
That led 20 of 35 staffers to sign a letter to HQ Trivia’s board asking them to remove Yusupov, though it was never formally sent. Yusupov caught wind of the plot and fired two of the leaders of the petition. That further sunk morale, leading to the exit of HQ Trivia’s SVP of brand partnerships and its marketing manager. The board began a search for a new CEO, though it’s unclear how that’s panned out.
Since then, new games HQ teased in April haven’t materialized as its download rate continued to suffer. It’s dropped to the No. 731 U.S. game on iOS according to AppAnnie. HQ Trivia saw just 827,000 downloads from January through June 2019, down 92% from the 10.2 million it saw in the same time frame in 2018, according to Sensor Tower. That’s the same percentage drop in downloads from June 2019 versus June 2018, indicating Rogowsky’s replacements that started in April couldn’t turn things around.
Interest in the live game show format seems to be waning as a whole. HQ Trivia fan site HQTrivia.fan shut down this week, fearing the end was near for the official game, and the (Business) INSIDER-run clone of the game on Facebook Watch called Confetti stopped airing at the end of June.
Rather than solely monetizing a waning audience via in-app purchases and sponsorships, HQ Words announced it would debut a $9.99 monthly subscription sometime this month that would grant access to winning “bigger prizes.” This could be a smart way to squeeze more dollars out of a smaller but more die-hard audience.
While HQ Trivia was an inspiring approach to mobile gaming, its twice-daily games didn’t fit the always-on nature of mobile. It’s failed to build a proper onboarding experience that gives users a taste of it games right away rather than forcing them to wait for the next scheduled match, as we suggested over a year ago. Gamers are fickle, craving instant gratification, and HQ hasn’t tried to meet them in the middle.
Perhaps there’s a future for HQ on cable television, or as a small but steady business on mobile catering to loyalists. But all the unfortunate events and mismanagement may make it difficult to exceed the $100 million valuation it raised money at during its peak.