By Luis Ferré-Sadurní and Sapna Maheshwari
Colin Kroll, co-founder and chief executive of the popular HQ Trivia app, was found dead apparently of a drug overdose in his lower Manhattan apartment early Sunday, police said.
Police officers found his body facedown on his bed after a concerned woman called 911 and asked police to check up on him in his SoHo apartment, on Spring Street. The woman’s relationship to Kroll was unclear, but police said she had grown worried about his well-being. Police said they found what appeared to be cocaine and heroin in the apartment.
Kroll was 34.
A spokeswoman for HQ Trivia said that the company became aware of Kroll’s death Sunday.
“We learned today of the passing of our friend and founder, Colin Kroll, and it’s with deep sadness that we say goodbye,” she said in an email. “Our thoughts go out to his family, friends and loved ones during this incredibly difficult time.”
The entrepreneur’s father, Alan Kroll, said in a phone interview: “He had so much talent and had accomplished so much at such a young age. It truly is a waste. At 34, imagine the things he’d done and the skills he had. It would have been really fun to watch him at 50.”
Alan Kroll said his son had recently stopped drinking and did not have a drug problem, although he was aware that his son took drugs recreationally.
“He worked too many hours and too hard,” he said. “I think New York City got to him a little bit.”
Kroll was scheduled to visit his father in Michigan next week for a 10-day Christmas vacation, and the two had talked about him moving away from New York.
“You need to have great constraint to have a disciplined life there,” Alan Kroll said.
He added, “All of that leads to getting too much drugs or bad drugs and overdosing.”
Before creating HQ Trivia, which livestreams 15-minute trivia shows typically twice a day to tens of thousands of mobile users, Kroll was among those who founded the six-second video app Vine, which was sold to Twitter in 2012 and closed down last year. Kroll went on to work briefly for Twitter, and later acknowledged being fired for “poor management” amid allegations of inappropriate workplace behavior toward women.
HQ Trivia quickly became a viral sensation when it debuted in August 2017, drawing together hordes of people for a livestreaming, interactive game, and it inspired a range of copycat apps that aimed to seize on the same popular format. The app, which is based in New York, has experienced a drop-off in audience, but it continues to attract thousands of people to play in hopes of winning money by answering a dozen trivia questions on their phones.
The show is typically hosted by an energetic comedian who cracks jokes as he or she asks multiple-choice questions of increasing difficulty. Players use their touch screens to respond in less than 10 seconds, and the app shows how many people are eliminated after each round.
Kroll founded HQ Trivia with Rus Yusupov, who was also one of the co-founders of Vine. The two men had been working together since then, they said in an interview with The New York Times last year, with a special interest in video apps on smartphones.
“I will forever remember him for his kind soul and big heart,” Yusupov wrote on Twitter. “He made the world and internet a better place.”
This year, when the company raised $15 million in venture capital funding, Recode reported that some investors decided not to participate because of Kroll’s workplace history at Twitter. Kroll denied that he had ever sexually harassed employees.
“It was a painful experience, but an eye-opening one that served as a catalyst for professional development and greater awareness in the office,” he told Axios in a statement. “I now realize that there are things I said and did that made some feel unappreciated or uncomfortable. I apologize to those people. Today, I’m committed to building HQ Trivia into a culture-defining product and supporting the dedicated team that makes it all possible.”
Alan Kroll said the Recode article troubled and hurt his son. He described Kroll as a “tough boss” and a hard-worker who routinely worked 100 hours a week.
“He had this hard Midwest drive about him,” said the father, who lives in the suburbs of Detroit, where he raised his three sons. “He couldn’t understand people that couldn’t keep up. I tried to explain to him that not everyone could do that.”
Kroll previously worked as an engineering manager for Yahoo from 2007 to 2009 and as chief technology officer at Jetsetter from 2009 to 2013.
He said in an interview with The Times last year that the company preferred to be based in New York, rather than San Francisco, because “our inspiration is more from media and TV than it is from technology.” Kroll was a fan of esports and livestreaming gaming platforms like Twitch, which inspired the development of HQ Trivia.
The medical examiner’s office will determine his cause of death.
“He was a young guy working on really creative stuff,” his father said. “Every day was a new day. It was how he lived until his death.”