On Sunday, the builders behind HQ Trivia — the sport present the place a whole lot of 1000’s of customers compete for money on their smartphones — launches a brand new recreation: HQ Phrases, a “Wheel of Fortune”-inspired app.
It needs to be a time of celebration and optimism for the younger start-up. As a substitute, HQ is dealing with a disaster.
One week in the past, CEO Colin Kroll, 34, was discovered lifeless of a suspected drug overdose in his $7,450-a-month Nolita condominium.
“I believe that, most likely, being regularly catapulted into these excessive visibility, profitable roles — in a really fast-moving metropolis the place there’s loads of accessibility [to illicit substances] — made it troublesome for him to remain grounded,” stated Maggie Neuwald, who was engaged to Kroll from 2012 to 2013.
Kroll — who launched HQ Trivia with Rus Yusupov in August 2017 — presided over a enterprise valued at $100 million. HQ was simply the pair’s newest large success. In 2012, they offered Vine, the as soon as wildly well-liked video app they created, to Twitter for $30 million.
Kroll was a start-up golden boy, however with a darkish aspect that was exacerbated by the roller-coaster highs and lows of the fast-paced tech trade.
“It’s not like anybody arms you … a handbook of easy methods to cope with [whirlwind success],” stated Neuwald. “That most likely, sadly, obtained the very best of him, though I had hoped he’d be capable to battle these demons.”
In line with sources, Kroll had struggled with dependancy for years. His father, Alan Kroll, advised The New York Occasions final week that his son, who labored 100-hour weeks, had not too long ago given up ingesting, although used medicine recreationally.
“He labored too many hours and too arduous,” the senior Kroll stated. “I believe New York Metropolis obtained to him a bit bit.”
Colin Kroll was discovered face-down in mattress on Dec. 16 after his 27-year-old girlfriend, Julie Antonio, known as police to conduct a wellness verify.
The evening earlier than, Kroll had attended HQ’s vacation occasion at Gran Morsi, an Italian restaurant in Tribeca. An organization insider advised The Publish he appeared “particularly off” that night.
Afterward, in keeping with police sources, Kroll and Antonio went to his two-bedroom condominium the place he did heroin and cocaine. (Antonio departed early Saturday morning.) Heroin and marijuana had been discovered close to Kroll’s physique when officers arrived simply after midnight, and there was additionally an envelope containing white powder and drug paraphernalia close by.
Kroll had stepped into the CEO position solely in September, and he had his work reduce out for him.
‘It’s not like anybody arms you … a handbook of easy methods to cope with [whirlwind success]. That most likely, sadly, obtained the very best of him.’
At the start of the 12 months, HQ Trivia was persistently within the High 10 most-downloaded free iPhone video games. Extra not too long ago, it has hovered between 250 and 500 in reputation.
The stress was on for the builders’ subsequent huge hit.
“Followers have been ready to see what the subsequent trick is,” stated one present worker.
“There’s a lot stress on [start-up] founders as a result of they should ship to traders,” stated the corporate insider. “There’s a disproportionately youthful set of founders on this house … They’re good and artistic and progressive, however they’re additionally younger and inexperienced and naïve. Rapidly, you’re going from a enjoyable, artistic time of constructing one thing into stress from the investor aspect.”
The highlight thrust upon Kroll, who grew up in Bloomfield, Mich., was worlds away from his upbringing.
“He had this difficult Midwest drive about him,” his father advised the Occasions.
“He labored actually arduous,” recalled childhood good friend Michelle Micallef. “He was a server at Steve’s Deli earlier than any of us had jobs.”
Kroll studied laptop science at Oakland College in Rochester, Mich. However to pursue his tech desires, he needed to enter a high-stakes world.
After commencement, he landed a job as a software program engineer at Proper Media, which purchased and offered promoting house, in New York Metropolis. When that firm was acquired by Yahoo, Kroll continued on as an engineering supervisor on the Web mammoth.
He left Yahoo in 2011 to work at journey Web page JetSetter, the place he grew to become chief expertise officer at 27.
In line with former fiancée Neuwald, Kroll had first struggled with dependancy whereas nonetheless in Michigan. (Previous to Neuwald, Kroll had been engaged as soon as earlier than, to Leslie Theron, who’s now a minister at a church in South Africa.) Earlier than they obtained collectively in 2009, Kroll had sobered up. He did drink with Neuwald, however not excessively, she stated.
That each one modified in 2012, when Kroll’s profession took a steep — and high-pressure — climb.
In June of that 12 months, Kroll joined forces with builders Rus Yusupov and Dom Hofmann to begin Vine. 4 months later, earlier than it even launched, Twitter acquired the app, making the younger males immediate millionaires. Vine debuted in January 2013; by December 2015 it had 200 million customers.
“I believe towards the top of our relationship, as he obtained extra profitable, he began to need to dabble in ingesting and people forms of issues a bit bit extra,” stated Neuwald. The couple break up in 2013, partially due to his fast-paced life-style.
Vine ought to have launched Kroll as an influence participant. As a substitute, he was fired from the corporate he co-founded after 18 months over allegations of being a “unhealthy supervisor,” in keeping with a December 2017 Recode article.
The article, which got here out 4 months after Kroll and his companions launched HQ, additionally acknowledged that Kroll had gotten a fame for “creepy” habits towards his feminine colleagues at Twitter.
A second HQ supply advised The Publish that the unhealthy press was deeply upsetting to Kroll.
In March of this 12 months, he publicly apologized — after HQ traders, having uncovered the outdated accusations throughout due diligence, had been hedging whether or not or to not give the corporate a brand new spherical of funding.
“I now understand that there are issues I stated and did that made some really feel unappreciated or uncomfortable. I apologize to these individuals,” he advised Axios in an announcement. “In the present day, I’m dedicated to constructing HQ Trivia right into a culture-defining product and supporting the devoted staff that makes all of it potential.”
One former Twitter worker advised The Publish Kroll was additionally identified for being “sketchy” with feminine Vine customers, exploiting his place on the firm to proposition girls and ask them out on dates.
“When he was at Vine, he used it as a private platform to hook up,” added the corporate insider.
Actually, Kroll and Julie Antonio first linked throughout Vine’s early days, when Antonio was a person of the app, in keeping with the corporate insider. The 2 are stated to have dated on and off for years and had not too long ago began spending extra time collectively.
Antonio, who lives in Jersey Metropolis, has a drug historical past of her personal.
In April 2015, she was arrested for possession of seven luggage of heroin and 50 used luggage, in addition to 9 hypodermic syringes, in keeping with a police report. (She couldn’t be reached for remark.)
“Individuals had been fearful about [Kroll],” stated the corporate insider, who added that, prior to now few months, Kroll would present up at HQ headquarters “nervous and jittery and form of wired.
“Individuals had been fairly certain it was cocaine. He’d yell at individuals and would have episodes the place he would get particularly vocal and push issues round.”
Across the time he was named CEO, Kroll swore off alcohol as soon as once more — however he additionally started skipping work for days at a time, calling out sick.
There have been, sources say, good days and unhealthy days, fueling suspicions of drug abuse.
“His habits was unstable,” stated the corporate insider.
Some HQ workers stated they had been fully at midnight concerning Kroll’s points.
“He was such a meticulous man and deliberate out up to now upfront, it blows your thoughts that he f–ked [up his life],” stated the present worker.
Kroll not too long ago cooked a turkey for the workers’s Thanksgiving potluck and introduced in Christmas cookies that his mom had despatched him.
He would recurrently deliver his pug, Tater Tot, to work.
However the firm insider stated that a number of complaints had been filed with HQ’s human-resources division in opposition to Kroll, together with one for him utilizing a swear phrase on an organization chat portal.
“It nearly appeared just like the complaints had been individuals’s approach of making an attempt to assist him,” stated the corporate insider.
However that assist by no means got here.
“His aspirations had been to actually change the world by the Web,” stated Neuwald.
“He had each cause on the planet to be completely happy and enthusiastic about all the things he was engaging in, however even regardless of that, he nonetheless struggled together with his demons and, sadly, simply wasn’t in a position to battle them off in the long run.”
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