Dissecting the viral growth of HQ Trivia and LOCO

A growth teardown of one of the most viral apps of 2017.

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This post is about how HQ Trivia and its Indian counterpart, Loco, hacked their growth. While I’ve dissected the product and growth mechanisms of Loco (since I’m familiar with their app), this holds good for HQ Trivia since they’re near-identical.
Starting in 2000, Kaun Banega Crorepati (modelled on the lines of Who Wants to be a Millionaire?), became an instant hit. One of India’s most well-known faces hosting a TV game show with a massive jackpot. While only one person got to play it, everyone pretended to be on the show answering questions as they sat in front of their TV screens fantasizing about what they’d do with the imaginary money they won. Hence it’s rather surprising that it took so long for someone to bring a live trivia game to the masses. Enter HQ Trivia and it’s Indian counterpart, Loco.
But before you begin, worship the growth curve on this one. 6 months is all it took to go from 14k live players to consistently clocking 1.9M! Wow, just wow!
At a recent conference, the founder disclosed that over 60% of the signups for Loco came through referrals. At 100,000 app downloads a day, it’s significant in that the cost of acquisition is extremely low! The number would similarly apply to HQ Trivia who benefit from a viral loop that makes this possible.
Read on, as I dissect the virality of HQ Trivia and Loco.
Credits @JayKapoorNYC
Credits @JayKapoorNYC
In August 2017, HQ Trivia launched in the US with a simple game format. Answer 12 multiple-choice questions to win prize money — which was initially $2,500 but has since gone up to $300,000 in special episodes. Answering questions doesn’t seem the most exciting unless there’s a real-host adding to a big-game feel and a little ticker at the top letting you know you’re competing against hundreds, initially, thousands and then millions of people. That’s one of the things that made HQ Trivia tick. Failure to answer a question resulted in elimination unless you redeemed one of your ‘lives’ and continued — not applicable to the final question. Founder Rus Yusupov and colin kroll are the geniuses behind HQ Trivia having formerly built and sold Vine to Twitter.
India got its own trivia game with Loco launching sometime in January 2018 perhaps. Slight variations in a number of questions (10) and prize money, the game retained all the elements of HQ Trivia with Android Central calling it a blatant rip-off — although that wasn’t really a complaint. After all, localization is key to the success of a game like this. I can only say it was a brilliant move on part of Abhishek Madhavan to capitalize on the craze and build a live trivia game for India. Claimed to be India’s fastest growing app of all time, the numbers are extremely impressive. On average, 150–250k people play live each day with a peak of 500k although these numbers are probably a few weeks old.
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So how did Loco and HQ Trivia explode into some of the most viral apps of all time?

Dissecting the viral fever

I’m going to do bullet points; because it’s easy and that’s all there is to it.

The Basics

  • Well-known TV game format adapted for mobile. Familiarity was an important feature.
  • A celebrity host — Gaurav Kapur. Adds legitimacy.
  • Large enough cash prize. With the smell of blood in the air, the lions arrive. Starting with Rs.10,000 the prize money now reaches up to Rs.1,50,000.

Game Mechanics leading to Growth

  • Fixed timings for games: 1:30pm and 10:00pm IST. Habit-forming and a Pavlovian masterpiece, the scarcity of games and their adherence to fixed times is one of the reasons why this became such a community thing. During the afternoon, you’re at work or school/college with friends and colleagues. At 10 pm, you’re at home with family or friends.
  • Timely push notifications to serve as reminders.
  • Cut-off for joining a game and observer mode. Nothing like telling people they can’t be a part of something exciting to build that conditioning for timeliness. If you’re not on time, you can only watch as people play. FOMO is high!
  • Short & sweet. Each game is approximately 10–15 minutes. A fun host and no bullshit.
  • Progressive difficulty of questions thins the herd. I wonder if the team has looked at the data to figure out if there’s a certain pattern to stickiness. To elaborate, at which round of losing does it most result in your building a habit of coming back to try again? Or am I overdoing the data analysis?
  • Use a ‘life’ to continue the game. This is the crown jewel of Loco’s growth. Who doesn’t want to get a second chance?
  • Refer friends to get a ‘life’. I wish I could get a life just by recommending anything :(. This game mechanic paired with the ability to continuing the game despite a wrong answer is the viral loop behind the massive growth the app has seen. Everything else is just the psychological conditioning.
  • Leaderboard. Everyone loves bragging.
  • Number of players live and percentage of people answering questions to progress to the next round. The numbers make it more exciting.
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  • Logo. A suited swag-dancing svelte hippo.
  • Colours. Purple — royalty!
  • Language: Urgent, edgy, witty without overdoing it.
  • Host: Don’t watch much TV but seen Gaurav Kapur a couple of times and he seems like a cool guy.
A well-packaged app that gets things right. The fact that they’ve both Hindi and English is definitely one of the reasons they’ve been able to capture a wide audience. Very curious to know the ratio of Hindi to English users. Could adding other languages see more growth?
The ultimate growth formula of the app captured in a simple format:
Incentive to win money + bragging rights >>> Try to acquire lives to increase chances of winning >>> Refer, refer, refer
In a very detailed analysis on HQ Trivia Niv Dror wrote on Product Hunt’s blog about how they went about community building and leveraged word-of-mouth to gain cult status. A very good read if you’d have the time.
I’m borrowing the Nir Eyal Hook-model that he annotated to explain why the game is such an addiction.

Recent Additions to Loco

While scaling the product has been a tremendous task, they’ve found time to make the experience better and stay relevant.


I re-downloaded the app in order to write this piece and was pleasantly surprised to see a very nicely done onboarding process in which Gaurav Kapur runs you through how the game works while getting you to actually take on two questions to get the hang of it.
The only thing I thought was missing was the stress on the viral loop part of it. There was no mention of using ‘lives’ and the process of referring friends to get more of them.

Loco Cricket League

Well done team, well done! Nothing like capitalizing on the IPL craze. Since I don’t play Loco, I’m not too sure what this looks like but it’s likely a format of the usual game.

My Suggestions

Haven’t given this too deep thought but here goes anyway.

T-shirts and merch

The thumb rule is, when something hits cult-status it needs its own merch. Think Elon Musk’s Boring Company hats and flamethrowers. This is not about making money. It’s about getting Loco out there and into people’s hands. People will happily become walking billboards for the game.


I’m doing a piece, due 3 weeks ago (procrastination, you see), on Hotstar and had put down a Loco-like quiz format that they could embed as part of their feature set. Perhaps Loco could offer this as a service to other apps who don’t want to build it as a feature and, maybe, ride on the popularity of Loco who’ll send pushes to get people onto the participating app?

Loco meets TV

Picture this — a live show where the top 10 Loco players of the week compete on television to win 1 crore (approx $150k) exclusively while another 1 crore is up for grabs for the rest of the folks playing live on the app. Yeah, I love being wild with my ideas.

What next for live trivia?

Is it a fad or is it here to stay? Often, apps/games appear on the scene, grab massive attention, users and funding only to fizzle out once the excitement dies down. I’m not saying that this will happen, but there’s a possibility of the novelty fading.
Loco has done really well by staying with the times, launching the Loco Cricket League. Stay relevant will extend the shelf-life and keep the product fresh. Official partnerships and tie-ups will give it steam.
New game types and ever growing prize money will see more players get onto the scene. A tie-up with a TV channel to turn this into a real spectacle could propel it to further heights.
My guess is Loco is here to stay and embed itself into popular culture while becoming a household name as it penetrates rural India. But they’ll need to play their cards right. It helps that they were acquired by a company aptly named Pocket Aces.