HQ Trivia, the viral quiz app from the guys behind Vine, just hit a tipping point

Not everyone can be a winner.
Not everyone can be a winner.
Image: HQ Trivia
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What were you doing at 10pm EST last night? If you have an iPhone (sorry, no Android users yet), there is a good chance that you were playing HQ Trivia, the interactive live-streamed quiz app that has gone viral because you can win real money. Sessions are weekdays at 3pm EST and everyday at 9pm EST, FYI.

Like any game show, it comes with a charismatic host (comedian Scott Rogowsky, who is known as “Quiz Daddy” by fans) who has a cheesy smile and cheesier puns. Suddenly, you don’t have to prove that you’re a low-key genius—or just photogenic—to compete on a game show. You can just do what I did last night and, admittedly, most nights: sit in your bathrobe and stare at your phone. Last night’s final session, however, wasn’t for the people—it was the investors.

You see, it was an extra game, an icing-on-the-cake session that occurred after the usual 9pm EST round. You would have only known about it through push notifications or the thousands of people tweeting about it. And yet, more than 367,000 people signed back on to play HQ Trivia for the second time that night. (In comparison, when the New York Times reported on the game on December 3, the highest number of concurrent players was 240,000 on November 26.) This was an opportunity to give the company something to boast about to potential advertisers and investors: our audience is hooked, so won’t you pay up?

And why not? It’s free for the players, and the players are what HQ Trivia is selling to business partners. For the chance to split $10,000 for the second time that night, all you had to do was answer a quiz of 12 increasingly difficult questions. It wouldn’t have take you much time; because if you select the wrong answer, you are immediately eliminated from the game.

HQ Trivia was launched in August 2017 by Rus Yusupov and Colin Kroll, who were also the co-founders of Vine, the social network for making six-second videos go viral. By early November, hundreds of thousands of people were scheduling their afternoon meetings and coffee breaks around it. “It says something about the audience that HQ Trivia is pursuing that there is an emphasis on geeky questions—tech stuff, tech-biz stuff, and pop-culture stuff rewarding familiarity with droids, elves, and Starfleet ships,” the New Yorker noted.

They’re not making money yet. The company, which already raised a “few million dollars” from Lightspeed Venture Partners, is currently focused on growth, not revenue—pulling in more and more users each night. “If we do any brand integrations or sponsors, the focus will be on making it enhance the gameplay,” Yusupov told Variety. “For a user, the worst thing is feeling like, ‘I’m being optimized – I’m the product now.’ We want to make a great game, and make it grow and become something really special.” According to the public leaderboard, the all-time highest amount a player has won from HQ Trivia is $821, so far. So in a way, venture funding is funding you, too.

Rogowsky, who commutes to New York City every day for the live taping, probably wanted to go home last night—he was speeding through the questions like he just wanted to be in his bathrobe instead of a suit. “This is for you,” he said, thanking us for playing the game, whether this was our first time (mine) or our hundredth time.

The final question asked, “Which of these theories was widely accepted by the scientific community most recently?” The three choices were plate tectonics, quantum mechanics, and relativity. A pretty basic question for supposedly the most difficult round, if you happen to be Quartz science reporters Katherine Ellen Foley or Akshat Rathi. Unfortunately, most of us are not, and turns out, only 93 out of the 371 people remaining in the final round answered correctly: plate tectonics!

These 93 winners received $103.53 after splitting the $10,000 pot, but the real winners were HQ Trivia. The company is busy raising money, and according to Recode, seeking up to a $100 million valuation. And now, they have the metrics to prove that 400,000 players are at their beck and call.