People & Human Resources, Startup News & Analysis

Founder of wildly popular HQ Trivia app cops flak for threatening to fire employee after they conducted media interview

Dominic Powell /

A trivia app created by the co-founders of much-loved video app Vine has been hauled into the spotlight this week after the chief executive threatened to fire a star employee for conducting an interview with a media publication.

HQ Trivia was launched in late October and was met with a whirlwind of acclaim and praise. Users log on to the app twice a day and participate in a trivia show, with those who answer every question correctly winning a slice of a prize pool.

The app was created by Vine co-founders Colin Kroll and Rus Yusupov, and each trivia show is hosted by actor Scott Rogowsky.

Upon the app’s success, US media organisation the Daily Beast reached out to Rogowsky to interview him about becoming a personality and a public face for the new business.

Upon Rogowsky agreeing to the interview, the Daily Beast also reached out to Yusupov and the HQ Trivia team to let them know the plans to write the story.

Yusupov responded to the publication saying the host would not be available for an interview, however, the Daily Beast had already independently conducted the interview with Rogowsky.

What followed was a lengthy tirade from Yusupov directed at Daily Beast journalist Taylor Lorenz, informing the publication if they released an article about Rogowsky the host could lose his job.

“You’re putting [Rogowsky’s] job in jeopardy. Is that what you want?” Yusupov reportedly told the Daily Beast.

The founder also took issue with a part of Rogowsky’s interview with the Daily Beast relating to him mentioning American salad chain Sweetgreen, claiming him mentioning the chain was akin to mentioning sensitive company information.

“He cannot say that! We do not have a brand deal with Sweetgreen! Under no circumstances can he say that,” Yusupov reportedly told the Daily Beast.

“It’s highly unprofessional. Highly unprofessional of you to reach out to one of our contract employees without my permission and without going through proper press channels.”

Yusupov then reportedly drew a comparison to employees at companies such as Apple revealing information to journalists, saying “if you reached out to an Apple engineer and they gave you information about the new iPhone, would you run it? No, because you’d have to go through proper press channels”.

Articles on iPhone leaks are frequently run by major news organisations, often relying on internal sources from Apple.

Have policies in place for media enquiries

The situation has prompted HR and communications experts to warn businesses about the importance of having plans in place when it comes to media relations, with Wattsnext HR general manager Ben Watts telling SmartCompany situations such as these can be a classic “growing pain” for early-stage companies.

“Fast growth businesses are still learning and they’re unlikely to have the managing media thing down pat as its something they’re usually not used to doing,” he says.

SMEs and startups such as HQ Trivia are often the ones caught out by this, says Watts, as large-scale businesses in the corporate world often have significant compliance issues to deal with around stock market listings and private company information, requiring a dedicated media team.

However, smaller businesses often don’t have such considerations, and Watts says the concern then turns to the business’ brand and public perception. In Yusupov’s case, Watts believes speaking out so passionately about the situation could have been a bit of a “knee-jerk reaction”.

“In this case, he seems to be being too protective of his brand, and how you react to an incident can often be more damaging than the incident itself,” he says.

A few days after the incident, Yusupov took to Twitter to apologise for the outburst, posting a photo of him and Rogowsky at Sweetgreen with the caption “Q: Who’s a cliche, stressed out startup founder? A: me”, and apologised to him and Lorenz.

Watts believes this was a good approach in repairing the damage that could have been caused by the outrage, saying it was “clever without being aggressive”. He believes this is a good lesson for SMEs in how to save face in these sort of situations, warning of the difficulties of having your brand displayed “as you want it [to be] all the time”.

For SMEs and startups, Watts advises a simple policy where any media enquiries come through one channel to a senior executive or chief executive at the business.

“Make sure staff know this, and make sure they know media enquiries are more often opportunities rather than negative things. For both those reasons there should be strong processes for handling these things,” he says.

SmartCompany contacted HQ Trivia but did not receive a response prior to publication.

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Dominic Powell

Dominic Powell is the lead reporter at StartupSmart.

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  • Ed Shyed

    HQ’s actions amaze me, maybe he was peeved HE wasnt the one asked to do the interview, but either way if thats how he reacts then I for one wont be using his app.