Talent

HQ Trivia has paid out $6M, but winners complain of delays

Posted by | Apps, Gaming, HQ Trivia, Mobile, payments, Personnel, Rus Yusupov, Startups, Talent, TC, trivia | No Comments

HQ Trivia’s troubles continue after a failed mutiny to oust the CEO, a 92% decline in downloads since versus 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.

Guys, I need your help. I won $20,000 on @hqtrivia on June 10 and still haven’t heard anything about payment. Sadly, I don’t think they’re going to pay.

Please RT to tell HQ they should honor their jackpots. If I’m wrong, I’ll happily delete this & give $100 to someone who RT’d! pic.twitter.com/FmpY6unK49

— Alex Jacob (@whoisalexjacob) July 8, 2019

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 reponded 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.

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HQ Trivia lays off ~20% as it preps subscriptions

Posted by | Apps, Entertainment, Gaming, HQ Trivia, layoffs, Media, Mobile, Personnel, Rus Yusupov, Social, Startups, Talent, TC, trivia | No Comments

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 under 30 (shrinking from 35 to 28 staffers would be a 20% drop).

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.

hq trivia app 1

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.

HQ Trivia employees petitioned to remove co-founder Rus Yusupov from the CEO position

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 #731 US 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.

HQ Words Everyday. Coming next month.

🗓 Play HQ Words every day.
💰 Bigger prizes.
🕹 More ways to win.
🔥 $9.99/mo. subscription.

RT and reply with your username for a chance to win a free year. #wordseveryday

— HQ Words (@hqwords) June 26, 2019

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 diehard 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 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 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.

 

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Northzone’s Paul Murphy goes deep on the next era of gaming

Posted by | Amazon, Angry Birds, Candy Crush, Electronic Arts, esports, Gaming, Google, King, league of legends, Media, mobile gaming, Netflix, Nintendo Switch, Paul Murphy, Rovio, Sports, stadia, Startups, Steam, supercell, Talent, TC, Tencent, unity-technologies, Venture Capital, Virtual reality | No Comments

As the gaming market continues to boom, billions of dollars are being invested in new games and new streaming platforms vying to own a piece of the action. Most of the value is accruing to the large incumbents in a space, however, and the entrance of Google and other big tech companies makes it difficult to identify where there are compelling opportunities for entrepreneurs to build new empires.

TechCrunch media analyst Eric Peckham recently sat down with Paul Murphy, Partner at European venture firm Northzone, to discuss Paul’s view of the market and where he is focusing his dollars. Below is the transcript of the conversation (edited for length and clarity):


Eric Peckham: You co-founded the hit mobile game Dots before moving to London and joining Northzone last year. Are you still bullish on investment opportunities in mobile gaming or do you think the market has changed?

Paul Murphy: I’m bullish on mobile gaming–the market is bigger than it has ever been. There’s a whole generation of people that have been trained to play games on mobile phones. So those are things that are very positive.

The challenge is you don’t really have a rising tide moment anymore. The winners have won. And so it’s very, very difficult for someone to enter with new content and build a business that’s as big as Supercell or King, regardless of how good their content is. So while the prize for winning in mobile gaming content big, the likelihood is smaller.

Where I’m spending most of my time is not on content, it’s on components within mobile gaming. We’re looking at infrastructure: different platforms that enable mobile gaming, like Bunch which we invested in.

Their product allows you to do live video and audio on top of mobile games. So we don’t have to take any content risk. We’re betting that this great product will fit into a large inventory ecosystem.

Peckham: New mobile game studios that are launching all seem to fall under the sphere of influence of these bigger companies. They get a strategic investment from Supercell or another company. To your point, it’s tough for a small startup to compete entirely on its own.

Murphy: It’s possible in mobile gaming still but it’s really, really hard now. At the same time, what you’ve seen is the odds of winning are lower. It is hard to reach the same scale when it costs you $5.00 to acquire a user today, whereas when Candy Crush launched, it was $0.05 per user. So it’s almost impossible to achieve King-like scale today.

Therefore, you’re looking at similar content risk with reduced upside, which makes that equation less attractive for venture capital. But it might be perfectly fine for an established company because they don’t need to do the marketing, they have the audience already.

The big gaming companies all struggle with the challenge of how to create the next hit IP. They have this machine that can bring any great game to market efficiently, with a large audience they can cross promote from and capital they can invest to build a big brand quickly. For them, the biggest challenge is getting the best content.

So it’s natural to me that the pendulum has swung towards strategic investors in mobile gaming content. Epic has a fund that they set up with Improbable, Supercell is making direct investments, Tencent has been making investments for years. Even from a content perspective, you’re probably going to see Apple, Google, and Amazon making more content investments in mobile gaming.

Image via Getty Images / aurielaki

Peckham: Does this same market dynamic apply to PC games and console games? Do you see a certain area within gaming where there’s still opportunity for independent startups to create the game itself and find success at a venture scale?

Murphy: The reason we made our investment in Klang Games, which is building an MMO called Seed that people will primarily play through PC, is that while there is content risk–you’re never going to get rid of the possibility that the IP doesn’t fly–if it works, it will be massive…an Earth-shattering level of success. If their vision comes to life, it will be very, very big.

So that one has all the risks that you’d have in any other game studio but the upside is exponentially larger, so the bet makes sense to us. And it so happens that it’s going to be on PC first, where there’s certainly a lot of competition but it’s not as saturated and the monetization methods are healthier than in mobile gaming. In PC, you don’t have to do free-to-play tactics that interfere with the gameplay.

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A chat with Niantic CEO John Hanke on the launch of Harry Potter: Wizards Unite

Posted by | Apps, augmented reality, Gaming, Google, harry potter wizards unite, ingress, interview transcript, john hanke, Media, Mobile, mobile gaming, niantic, Personnel, pokemon, Pokémon Go, Social, Startups, Talent, TC, universal studios, Virtual reality | No Comments

Just shy of three years ago, Pokémon GO took over the world. Players filled the sidewalks, and crowds of trainers flooded parks and landmarks. Anywhere you looked, people were throwing Pokéballs and chasing Snorlax.

As the game grew, so did the company behind it. Niantic had started its life as an experimental “lab” within Google — an effort on Google’s part to keep the team’s founder, John Hanke, from parting ways to start his own thing. In the months surrounding GO’s launch, Niantic’s team shrank dramatically, spun out of Google, and then rapidly expanded… all while trying to keep GO’s servers from buckling under demand and to keep this massive influx of players happy. Want to know more about the company’s story so far? Check out the Niantic EC-1 on ExtraCrunch here.

Now Niantic is back with its next title, Harry Potter: Wizards Unite. Built in collaboration with WB Games, it’s a reimagining of Pokémon GO’s real-world, location-based gaming concept through the lens of JK Rowling’s Harry Potter universe.

I got a chance to catch up with John Hanke for a few minutes earlier this week — just ahead of the game’s US/UK launch this morning. We talked about how they prepared for this game’s launch, how it’s built upon a platform they’ve been developing across their other titles for years, and how Niantic’s partnership with WB Games works creatively and financially.

Greg Kumparak: Can you tell me a bit about how all this came to be?

John Hanke: Yeah, you know.. we did Ingress first, and we were thinking about other projects we could build. Pokémon was one that came up early, so we jumped on that — but the other one that was always there from the beginning, of the projects we wanted to do, was Harry Potter. I mean, it’s universally beloved. My kids love the books and movies, so it’s something I always wanted to do.

Like Pokémon, it was an IP we felt was a great fit for [augmented reality]. That line between the “muggle” world and the “magic” world was paper thin in the fiction, so imagining breaking through that fourth wall and experiencing that magic through AR seemed like a great way to use the technology to fulfill an awesome fan fantasy.

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Maker Faire halts operations and lays off all staff

Posted by | Education, Entertainment, Exit, Fundings & Exits, Gadgets, Hack, hardware, layoffs, MAKE, maker faire, Maker Media, Media, Personnel, robotics, Startups, Talent, TC | No Comments

Financial troubles have forced Maker Media, the company behind crafting publication MAKE: magazine as well as the science and art festival Maker Faire, to lay off its entire staff of 22 and pause all operations. TechCrunch was tipped off to Maker Media’s unfortunate situation which was then confirmed by the company’s founder and CEO Dale Dougherty.

For 15 years, MAKE: guided adults and children through step-by-step do-it-yourself crafting and science projects, and it was central to the maker movement. Since 2006, Maker Faire’s 200 owned and licensed events per year in over 40 countries let attendees wander amidst giant, inspiring art and engineering installations.

Maker Media Inc ceased operations this week and let go of all of its employees — about 22 employees” Dougherty tells TechCrunch. “I started this 15 years ago and it’s always been a struggle as a business to make this work. Print publishing is not a great business for anybody, but it works…barely. Events are hard . . . there was a drop off in corporate sponsorship.” Microsoft and Autodesk failed to sponsor this year’s flagship Bay Area Maker Faire.

But Dougherty is still desperately trying to resuscitate the company in some capacity, if only to keep MAKE:’s online archive running and continue allowing third-party organizers to license the Maker Faire name to throw affiliated events. Rather than bankruptcy, Maker Media is working through an alternative Assignment for Benefit of Creditors process.

“We’re trying to keep the servers running” Dougherty tells me. “I hope to be able to get control of the assets of the company and restart it. We’re not necessarily going to do everything we did in the past but I’m committed to keeping the print magazine going and the Maker Faire licensing program.” The fate of those hopes will depend on negotiations with banks and financiers over the next few weeks. For now the sites remain online.

The CEO says staffers understood the challenges facing the company following layoffs in 2016, and then at least 8 more employees being let go in March according to the SF Chronicle. They’ve been paid their owed wages and PTO, but did not receive any severance or two-week notice.

“It started as a venture-backed company but we realized it wasn’t a venture-backed opportunity” Dougherty admits, as his company had raised $10 million from Obvious Ventures, Raine Ventures, and Floodgate. “The company wasn’t that interesting to its investors anymore. It was failing as a business but not as a mission. Should it be a non-profit or something like that? Some of our best successes for instance are in education.”

The situation is especially sad because the public was still enthusiastic about Maker Media’s products  Dougherty said that despite rain, Maker Faire’s big Bay Area event last week met its ticket sales target. 1.45 million people attended its events in 2016. MAKE: magazine had 125,000 paid subscribers and the company had racked up over one million YouTube subscribers. But high production costs in expensive cities and a proliferation of free DIY project content online had strained Maker Media.

“It works for people but it doesn’t necessarily work as a business today, at least under my oversight” Dougherty concluded. For now the company is stuck in limbo.

Regardless of the outcome of revival efforts, Maker Media has helped inspire a generation of engineers and artists, brought families together around crafting, and given shape to a culture of tinkerers. The memory of its events and weekends spent building will live on as inspiration for tomorrow’s inventors.

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Delane Parnell’s plan to conquer amateur esports

Posted by | accelerator, Alexis Ohanian, Amazon, Apps, Brian Wong, Canada, coach, delane parnell, detroit, esports, Facebook, Fundings & Exits, Gaming, league of legends, Los Angeles, Ludlow Ventures, Matt Mazzeo, Media, national basketball association, north america, Personnel, Peter Pham, playvs, Riot Games, rocket fiber, Rocket League, science, serial entrepreneur, Sports, Spotify, Startups, Talent, TC, Twitch, United States, Venture Capital, video game | No Comments

Most of the buzz about esports focuses on high-profile professional teams and audiences watching live streams of those professionals.

What gets ignored is the entire base of amateurs wanting to compete in esports below the professional tier. This is like talking about the NBA and the value of its sponsorships and broadcast rights as if that is the entirety of the basketball market in the US.

Los Angeles-based PlayVS (pronounced “play versus”) wants to become the dominant platform for amateur esports, starting at the high school level. The company raised $46 million last year—its first year operating—with the vision that owning the infrastructure for competitions and expanding it to encompass other social elements of gaming can make it the largest gaming company in the world.

I recently sat down with Founder & CEO Delane Parnell to talk about his company’s formation and growth strategy. Below is the transcript of our conversation (edited for length and clarity):

Founding PlayVS

Eric P: You have a fascinating background as a serial entrepreneur while you were a teenager.

Delane P.: I grew up on the west side of Detroit and started working at the cell phone store of a family friend when I was 13. When I turned 16 or so, I joined two guys in opening our own Metro PCS franchise. And then two additional franchises. And I was on the founding team of a car rental company called Executive Rental Car.

Eric P: And this segued into tech startups after meeting Jon Triest from Ludlow Ventures?

Delane P: He got me a ticket to the Launch conference in SF, and that experience inspired me to start a Fireside Chat series in Detroit that brought in people like Brian Wong from Kiip and Alexis Ohanian from Reddit to speak. Starting at 21, I worked at a venture capital firm called IncWell based in Birmingham, Michigan then joined a startup called Rocket Fiber.

We were focused on internet infrastructure – this is 2015-ish – and I was appointed to lead our strategy in esports. So I met with many of the publishers, ancillary startups, tournament organizers, and OG players and team owners. Through the process, I became passionate about esports and ended up leaving Rocket Fiber to start a Call of Duty team that I quickly sold to TSM.

Eric P: What then drove you to found PlayVS? Did it seem like an obvious opportunity or did it take you a while to figure it out?

Delane P.: What esports means is playing video games competitively bound to governance and a competitive ruleset. As a player, what that experience means is you play on a team, in a position, with a coach, in a season that culminates in some sort of championship.

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Pro gamer Tfue files lawsuit against esports org over ‘grossly oppressive’ contract

Posted by | esports, faze clan, Gaming, lawsuit, Sports, Startups, Talent, TC, tfue, Twitch, YouTube | No Comments

Turner “Tfue” Tenney, one of the world’s premier streamers and esports pros, has filed a lawsuit against esports organization Faze Clan over a “grossly oppressive, onerous and one-sided” contract, according to THR.

The complaint alleges that Faze Clan’s Gamer Agreement relegates up to 80% of the streamer’s earnings from branded content (sponsored videos) to Faze Clan, and that the contract hinders Tfue from pursuing and earning money from sponsorship deals that Faze Clan hasn’t approved.

Tfue’s lawyer, Bryan Freedman of Freedman + Taitelman, took the complaint to the California Labor Commissioner with issues that span far beyond financial contracts. Freedman wrote that Faze Clan takes advantage of young artists and actually jeopardizes their health and safety, noting an incident where Tfue was allegedly pressured to skateboard in a video and injured his arm. Freedman also wrote that Faze Clan pressured Tfue to live in one of its homes where he was given alcohol before being 21 years old, and encouraged to illegally gamble.

From the complaint:

In one instance, Tenney suffered an injury (a deep wound that likely required stitches) which resulted in permanent disfigurement. Faze Clan also encourages underage drinking and gambling in Faze Clan’s so-called Clout House and FaZe House, where Faze Clan talent live and frequently party. It is also widely publicized that Faze Clan has attempted to exploit at least one artist who is a minor.

Faze Clan issued the following statement on Twitter following the news:

A follow-up from FaZe Clan on today’s unfortunate situation. pic.twitter.com/qm6sK8v88B

— FaZe Clan (@FaZeClan) May 21, 2019

Faze Clan claims that it has taken no more than 20% of Tfue’s earnings from sponsored content, which amounts to a total of $60,000. The owner of Faze Clan, Ricky Banks, took to Twitter to make his case, showing the incredible growth of Tfue’s popularity across Twitch and YouTube since signing with Faze Clan.

I recruited Tfue to FaZe Clan in April of 2018. These are graphs from both his YouTube & Twitch channels following the mark of our relationship. pic.twitter.com/c7m3QwsoTZ

— FaZe Banks (@Banks) May 20, 2019

As it stands now, Tfue boasts more than 120 million views on Twitch, more than 10 million YouTube subscribers and 5.5 million followers on Instagram.

Banks also reiterated Faze Clan’s official statement saying that the company has taken 20% of Tfue’s earnings from branded deals, totaling $60,000.

OK LAST TWEET – To clarify Turners contract does outline splits in prizes, ad revenue, stuff like that. But again we’ve collected absolutely none of it with no plans to and that was very clear to him. We have collected a total of $60,000 from 300k in brand deals (20%). That’s it

— FaZe Banks (@Banks) May 20, 2019

The Tfue claim, however, seems to take issue with the content of the agreement, not necessarily its execution, and the general legality of these types of gamer agreements across the esports landscape. Moreover, the complaint alleges that Tfue lost potential earnings due to his agreement with Faze Clan and their own conflicts of interest with various brands interested in a sponsorship.

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HQ Trivia replaces Quiz Daddy Scott Rogowsky

Posted by | Apps, Gaming, HQ Trivia, Mobile, Rus Yusupov, Startups, Talent, TC, trivia | No Comments

Quiz Khalifa aka Host Malone aka Trap Trebek aka HQ Trivia’s Scott Rogowsky has been pushed out of the live mobile gaming startup. The two split due to disagreements about Rogowsky attempting to take a second full-time job hosting sports streaming service DAZN’s baseball show ChangeUp while moving to only hosting HQ on weekends, TMZ first reported. HQ wanted someone committed to their show.

Now HQ co-founder and CEO Rus Yusupov confirms to TechCrunch that Rogowsky will no longer host HQ Trivia. He tells me that the company ran a SurveyMonkey survey of its top players and they voted that former guest host Matt Richards rated higher than Rogowsky. Yusupov says HQ is excited to have Richards as its new prime time host. It’s also putting out offers to more celebrity guests to host for a few shows, a few weeks or even a whole season of one of its time slots.

HQ Trivia’s new host Matt Richards

The departure could still shake HQ’s brand since Rogowsky had become the de facto face of the company. But he was also prone to talking a lot on the air and promoting himself, sometimes in ways that felt distracting from the game. Rogowsky has also been using HQ’s brand to further his stand-up comedy career, splashing its logo on advertising for his shows like this one below at a casino where “The centerpiece is a live trivia competition,” he told WPTV5.

[Update: Rogowsky has since commented on his departure via tweetstorm. He thanked the team and viewers for their support but didn’t mention the startup’s founders, confirmed his ChangeUp gig led to leaving HQ, and threw a dig at the company noting “I wasn’t given the courtesy of a farewell show.”]

Sadly, it won’t be possible for me to continue hosting HQ concurrently as I had hoped, and because I wasn’t given the courtesy of a farewell show, please allow me to use this thread to say all the things I would have said on my final broadcast. (2/5)

— Scott Rogowsky (@ScottRogowsky) April 12, 2019

Rogowsky also issued TechCrunch this statement:

“Nothing in my decade-plus entertainment career has meant more to me personally and professionally than my involvement with HQ. I am tremendously grateful to the talented team of engineers, writers, animators and producers at Intermedia Labs who helped me grow the show into the international phenomenon it became, and above all, I will forever be thankful for the millions of HQties around the world who will always hold a special place in my heart. While the decision to leave HQ was a difficult one, I am delighted to begin this next chapter in my career with the amazing people at MLB and DAZN. If you miss me on HQ, you can now get three hours of me every weeknight watching ChangeUp on DAZN.”

TechCrunch had predicted that Rogowsky might depart if he wasn’t properly compensated with equity in HQ Trivia that would only vest and earn him money if he stuck around. The damage to HQ could worsen if he’s scooped up by Facebook, Snapchat or another tech company to build out their own live video gaming shows.

Rogowsky used HQ Trivia branding to promote his own in-person comedy and trivia shows

HQ Trivia provided this statement on Rogowsky’s exit:

We continue to build an incredible company at HQ Trivia, from drawing hundreds of thousands of players to the platform daily, to increasing the size of the prize, to attracting strong talent. We’ve come a long way since Scott Rogowsky’s first trivia game and we’re grateful for everything he’s done for the platform. This is a team that creates products for talent to really shine—we’re just getting started at HQ Trivia, and as he makes his next move, wanted to take a minute to thank him for being part of our journey.

Yusupov tells me he’s excited about exploring new hosts, noting that Richards is a person of color who brings more diversity to HQ’s lineup. Richards is a stand-up comic who has appeared on CBS’ 2 Broke Girls, Nickelodeon’s School of Rock and was a voice-over host for game show Trivial Takedown on FUSE. Yusupov says the team feels jazzed about the new creative opportunities beyond Rogowsky, though the CEO says he appreciates all that its former host contributed.

Richards will have the tall task of trying to revive HQ’s popularity. It climbed the app store charts to become the No. 3 top game and No. 6 overall app in January 2018, and peaked at 2.38 million concurrent players in March 2018. But it’s been on a steady decline since, falling to the No. 585 overall app in August, and it dropped out of the top 1,500 last month, according to App Annie. HQ Trivia was installed more than 160,000 times last month on iOS and Android, with approximately $200,000 in in-app purchase revenue, according to Sensor Tower. But that’s just 8 percent as many downloads as the 1.97 million new installs HQ got in March 2018.

Exhaustion with the game format, so many winners splitting jackpots to just a few dollars per victor and laggy streams have all driven away players. The introduction of a new Wheel of Fortune-style HQ Words game in August hasn’t stopped the decline. And the tragic death of HQ co-founder and former CEO Colin Kroll may have impeded efforts to turn things around. There’s a ton of pressure on the company after it raised $23 million, including a $15 million round at a $100 million valuation.

Even if HQ Trivia fades from the zeitgeist, it and Rogowsky will have inspired a new wave of innovation in what it means to play with our phones.

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Talking the future of media with Northzone’s Pär-Jörgen Pärson

Posted by | augmented reality, blockchain, content, Distributed Ledger, Entertainment, events, Finance, funding, Fundings & Exits, Gaming, live tv, live tv streaming, Media, music streaming, Northzone, Personnel, PJ Parson, slush, Startups, streaming, Talent, TC, television, tv, tv streaming, Venture Capital, Video, video streaming, Virtual reality | No Comments

We live in the subscription streaming era of media. Across film, TV, music, and audiobooks, subscription streaming platforms now shape the market. Gaming and podcasting could be next. Where are the startup opportunities in this shift, and in the next shift that will occur?

I sat down with Pär-Jörgen “PJ” Pärson, a partner at European venture firm Northzone, to discuss this at SLUSH this past winter. Pärson – a Swede who now runs Northzone’s office in NYC – led the top early-stage investor in Spotify and led the $35 million Series C in $45/month sports streaming service fuboTV (which has roughly 250,000 subscribers).

In the transcript below, we dive into the core investment thesis that has guided him for 20 years, how he went from running a fish distribution to running a VC firm, his best practices for effective board meetings and VC-entrepreneur relationships, and his assessment of the big social platforms, AR/VR, voice interfaces, blockchain, and the frontier of media. It has been edited for length and clarity.

From Fish to VC

Eric Peckham:

Northzone isn’t your first VC firm — Back in 1998, you created Cell Ventures, which was more of a holding company or studio model. What was your playbook then?

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WhatsApp’s Brian Acton to talk Signal Foundation and leaving Facebook at Disrupt SF

Posted by | Apps, Brian Acton, Facebook, Mobile, Policy, privacy, signal, signal foundation, Talent, TC, TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2019, WhatsApp | No Comments

“We give them the power. That’s the bad part. We buy their products. We sign up for these websites. Delete Facebook, right?”

That’s WhatsApp founder Brian Acton’s most recent quote about his former employer, Facebook. Acton has seemingly been fueled by his experience running WhatsApp from within Facebook, which has been scrutinized for profiting from collecting data on users.

Which explains why now, two years after leaving Facebook, Acton has found a new groove as founder and executive chairman of the Signal Technology Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to doing the foundational work around making private communication accessible, secure and ubiquitous. Acton invested $50 million of his own money to start Signal Foundation in February of 2018.

At TechCrunch Disrupt SF in October, we’ll hear more from Acton about Signal Foundation and his predictions for the future of communication and privacy. And, of course, we’ll try to learn more about what Facebook was up to with WhatsApp, why he left and how it felt leaving $850 million on the table.

Though he was rejected for positions at Facebook and Twitter in 2009, Acton is actually a Silicon Valley veteran, working in the industry (mostly as a software builder) for more than 25 years at places like Apple, Yahoo and Adobe before founding WhatsApp.

The chat app he built with co-founder Jan Koum grew to 1.5 billion users and, eventually, saw a $19 billion buyout from Mark Zuckerberg in 2014. But when Facebook wanted to lay the basis for targeted ads and commercial messaging within the encrypted chat app he’d spent years building, he walked away.

The Signal Foundation is all about ensuring people have access to private communication that doesn’t cost their own personal data.

“We believe there is an opportunity to act in the public interest and make a meaningful contribution to society by building sustainable technology that respects users and does not rely on the commoditization of personal data,” Acton wrote when it was first announced. In many ways, the Signal Foundation is a symbol and a continuation of Acton’s most expensive moral stand.

We’re thrilled to hear from Acton about what’s next at Signal Foundation. We’ll also try to learn more about his exit at Facebook and his feelings about the products he spent so much time building there.

After all, unsavvy regulators, legions of competitors and user backlash have all failed to compel Facebook to treat people better. But the real power lies with the talent that tech giants fight over. When people like Acton speak up or walk out, employers are forced to listen.

“No filter” is Acton’s style, so get ready for some fireworks when we sit down with him onstage at Disrupt SF.

Disrupt SF runs October 2 to October 4 at the Moscone Center. Tickets are available here.

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