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HQ Trivia is raising $15 million at a valuation of more than $100 million from Founders Fund

Founders Fund partner Cyan Banister is leading the round.

HQ Trivia host Scott Rogowsky wears black tie outside at Times Square with New Year’s Eve host Jenny McCarthy
HQ Trivia host Scott Rogowsky with Jenny McCarthy
Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for dick clark productions

HQ Trivia, the popular trivia gameshow app, plans to raise money in a new round of financing that values the company north of $100 million, according to multiple sources.

Founders Fund, the venture firm founded by billionaire Peter Thiel, is expected to lead the round of $15 million, these sources say. Founders Fund partner Cyan Banister is spearheading the investment for the firm, and plans to take a seat on the company’s board.

A spokesperson for Founders Fund declined to comment. Jeremy Liew, an HQ investor and board member who works at Lightspeed Ventures, could not be immediately reached for comment on Thursday.

HQ, which has garnered audiences of more than a million people for some of its twice-daily trivia shows, has been out fundraising since at least November, but it has had trouble raising money after investors learned of alleged bad behavior by one of the company’s founders, Colin Kroll.

Kroll and fellow co-founder Rus Yusupov also started the video app Vine before selling it to Twitter in 2012. Both founders were eventually fired from Twitter, and had garnered reputations for being difficult to work with.

Kroll’s time at Twitter was particularly troubling to some investors. As Recode first reported, Kroll had developed a reputation for exhibiting behavior that made female colleagues uncomfortable. That reputation turned off potential investors who considered an investment in the company late last year, and HQ ultimately paused the funding process to regroup.

In December, Liew, an investor from a previous round, conducted his own investigation into the allegations.

“We heard back from a couple of firms that they were not going to move forward, specifically because of rumors of what was characterized as womanizing on Colin’s part,” Liew told Recode in December. “I was concerned that this might be code for sexual harassment. So in my capacity as a board member, I conducted an investigation to find out what actually happened. I spoke to about a dozen current and former Twitter execs. The investigation was exhaustive and included the most knowledgeable primary sources. I found a good deal of negative sentiment about Colin and the Vine team and some discomfort with his behavior, but I did not find evidence that warrants his removal from the company.”

Investor interest in HQ was high before the founders’ behavior became public — HQ was the app of the moment late last year, luring in hundreds of thousands of users twice a day thanks to a catchy trivia host and cash prizes.

Even after Recode’s story detailing the founders’ reputation, many investors were still interested in the deal but worried about the optics of leading the funding, numerous sources said. Multiple venture funds said they were eager to join the round as long as they did not have to lead it, given the potential for negative publicity.

With the recent and frequent allegations of sexual harassment against influential men in numerous industries, Silicon Valley investors are being more careful about which founders they support. Some firms that considered the deal did their own investigations into the founders’ history, including Founders Fund, the sources said.

It is notable that Banister, a female investor, is ultimately leading the round.

The deal, which came together in just the last couple of days, has not yet closed. But the new funding is needed. HQ’s cash prizes have increased, and on special occasions can be as high as $10,000 per game. The app also suffers from constant technical issues, and the games are often delayed while the company gets the video stream up and running. New funding should help in both cases.

The company had previously raised $8 million in funding to build other apps, including a separate mobile video app called Hype. None caught on. Kroll and Yusupov pivoted the business to the HQ Trivia app in late 2017.

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