On New Year’s Day, more than 750,000 people logged onto their phones at the same time. But it wasn’t to check their Instagrams or update their Facebook statuses.
It was to play an app called “HQ.”
HQ is a new trivia app craze that invites users to play a quiz game show in real-time with live, professional hosts.
Every day at 9 p.m. EST (and, during the week, 3 p.m. EST), players load up the mobile app to play for real prize money. If a player answers 12 questions correctly, she splits the jackpot with other winners. Players typically win between $10 and $12, and some jackpots have reached $18,000. Winners get their money through a PayPal deposit.
HQ’s popularity—and the fact that the free trivia app has no advertising—has led some to wonder: How does HQ make enough money to gives away thousands of dollars in prizes?
Rus Yusupov, one of the app’s co-founders, told Variety that he’s seen “a ton of interest from brands and agencies who want to collaborate,” but they’ve never had any sponsored content or questions.
Instead, the company is backed by venture capital, a rep for HQ Trivia told Money, and is not currently focused on profitability. That means those jackpots are being paid out by deep-pocketed Silicon Valley investors who are betting the game will get big enough that, eventually, companies will pay to be associated with it.
Yusupov and Colin Kroll, two founders of the now defunct social media company Vine, launched HQ Trivia last fall. It was built by Intermedia Labs, the app developer they created after they left Vine. While their individual net worths are not known, Twitter bought Vine in 2012 for $30 million.
HQ is still in the early stages of asking investors for money. According to Recode, as of Dec. 8, HQ Trivia has raised at least $8 million, and was asking venture capitalists to value it at between $80 million to $100 million.
Recode also reported that “at least three prominent investors have decided against funding the startup after finding troubling conduct on the part of the founders they uncovered during due diligence.” It is not clear what that behavior was. The Daily Beast recently published a story in which one of HQ Trivia’s co-founders threatened to fire HQ’s most popular host, Scott Rogowsky, if the story ran because Rogowsky was initially not given permission to speak to reporters. Yusupov later apologized for “being a jerk.”
The app recently launched on Android, which means it will now reach an even wider audience.