HQ Trivia’s troubles continue after a failed mutiny to oust the CEO, a 92% decline in downloads since a year ago and layoffs of 20% of its staff last week. Now TechCrunch has learned HQ has failed to install a new CEO after months of searching. Meanwhile, users continue to complain about delays for payouts of their prizes from the live mobile trivia game, and about being booted from the game for no reason while on the final question.
Notably, Jeopardy winner Alex Jacob claims he hasn’t been paid the $20,000 he won on HQ Trivia on June 10th. This could shake players’ faith in HQ and erode their incentive to compete.
An HQ Trivia representative tells TechCrunch that the game has paid out $6.25 million to date and that 99% of players have been eligible to cash out within 48 hours of winning, but some winners may have to wait up to 90 days for it to ensure they didn’t break the rules to win. Given Jacob’s large jackpot, it’s possible the delay could be due to the company investigating to ensure he won fairly, though he’s clearly skilled at trivia given he won Jeopardy’s Tournament of Champions in 2015. Jacob did not respond to requests for interview.
“We strive to make a game that is fair and fun for all players. As such, we have a rigorous process of reviewing winners for eligibility to receive cash prizes. Infrequently, we disqualify players for violating HQ‘s Terms of Service and Contest Rules,” HQ Trivia’s press alias anonymously responded to our request for comment. “It may take some eligible winners up to 90 days to receive cash prizes, however 99% of players have been able to cash out within 48 hours of winning a game and we have paid out a total of $6,252,634.58 USD to winners since launch.”
It seems that HQ’s internal problems are now metastasizing into public issues. Its team being short-staffed and distracted by weak morale could lengthen payout delays, which make players worry if they’ll ever get their cash. When they share those sentiments to social media, it could discourage others from playing. That, combined with concerns that bots and cheaters are winning the games, splitting the jackpots into tiny fractions so legitimate winners get less, has hurt the perception of HQ as a game where the smartest can win big.
Back in April, TechCrunch reported that 20 of HQ’s 35 staffers were preparing a petition to the board to remove CEO and co-founder Rus Yusupov for mismanagement. Yusupov caught wind of the plot and fired two of the leaders of the movement. However, HQ’s board decided it would bring in a new CEO. Board member and Tinder CEO Elie Seidman told TechCrunch that Yusupov had accepted he would be replaced by someone with the ability fire him and that a CEO search was ongoing. The startup’s lead investor, Lightspeed, has pledged to provide 18 months of funding once a new CEO was hired.
However, multiple sources tell TechCrunch that a new CEO has yet to be installed. One source tells me that management had promised a new CEO by the beginning of August, but that Yusupov had stalled the process seemingly to remain in power. HQ Trivia, Yusupov and Seidman did not respond for requests for comment regarding the CEO search.
When asked about morale at the company, a source familiar with HQ’s internal situation told me, “It’s terrible.” Yusupov is said to continue to be tough to work with, making decisions without full buy-in from the rest of the company. A substantial portion of the team was allegedly unaware of plans to launch a $9.99 subscription tier for HQ’s second game, HQ Words, until the company tweeted out the announcement.
Hopefully HQ Trivia can find a new captain to steer this ship back into smoother waters. The game has hundreds of thousands of players and many more with fond memories of competing. There’s still hope if it can evolve the product to give new users a taste of gameplay without waiting for the next scheduled match, find new revenue in expanded brand partnerships, fight off the bots and cheaters and get everyone paid promptly. Perhaps there’s room for television tie-ins to bring HQ to a wider audience.
But before the startup can keep quizzing the world, HQ Trivia must endure its internal tests of resolve and find a champ to lead it.