Meet Huge Quiz Founder Darin Hawley
Work and Money: I've come to understand that you started out in finance. Can you tell me a little about your trajectory into entrepreneurship?
Darin Hawley: Sure. I've lived in the Minneapolis area most of my life. I grew up up in Plymouth and went to the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, where I majored in business with a finance emphasis.
After school, I went into finance mostly — stocks and bonds, investments. The longest position I had before I started with Huge Quiz was was just over a decade at the Royal Bank of Canada. Aside from that, I have always been a techie. I learned computers and basic programming over the years. My interest in it gave me a little background to start the website.
WM: What made you decide to go with trivia quizzes?
Hawley: At my former job, we would have some days that were very busy and some that were very quiet, but we really couldn't leave the computer during trading hours, so I'd find something online to keep me occupied on slower days.
There's a popular website called Sporcle that has tons of quizzes and the nice thing about it is that you can make your own. I made mine a little more involved than just the basic quizzes they had. For example, mine would have a lot more answers or require a little bit more data to create.
I got to be one of the more popular quiz makers on the site, and after a while thought: I can expand this. It would be fun to do — like a quiz using Google Maps, rather than just naming places or have quizzes without like a limit on the number of answers.
I wanted to make quizzes that you could work on for a long time, rather than something that's 10 or 20 answers. Think of it as a brainstorming quiz and not just a trivia quiz.
WM: I tried one of the music quizzes you had. I liked it because it had an actual piece of music in the question.
Hawley: The vast majority of quizzes are just done by typing answers with text hints, but there are some audio quizzes. The geography section has map quizzes where you see a Google map with pins on it, and you name the locations. This makes the test a little more interactive.
WM: How do you write the quizzes?
Hawley: They are mostly based on large chunks of data. I'm constantly pulling data online. I got good at automating it. This is not done manually — I'm not sitting there copying and pasting this stuff.
Let's say I have a quiz about the largest cities in the world. I'll go online and find sources with, for example, city populations. Fortunately, there's a really great site with that information called City Population. I've made scripts that open pages on that site and pull the data into Excel. I have this giant spreadheet with cities, their coordinates, and a lot of other stuff.
The quizzes will read from that exact data set, and make a quiz based on it. With that one data set, I can make a largest cities in the world quiz, or make largest cities in Asia quiz because the quiz will just read the Asian cities. I can make a quiz about largest cities that begin with a letter of your choosing — you'll enter the letter "A" to start the quiz, and then all the cities that start with that letter, these pop up on the map, and you name them.
WM: Are you the only person creating the quizzes and working on the site in general?
Hawley: Sometimes, someone who uses the site will email me and suggest a quiz or send me some data, but that's pretty rare. The only thing I've had a lot of help with, and this was a few years ago, is the site itself. I worked with a freelance web developer to create it over a period of few months in 2018. We made the full design — the back end, front end and UI/UX.
The first version of the site launched in 2015, when I was still working at RBC (and it was more of a hobby.) A year or so later, I left to work on the site a lot more, but it stayed a hobby for a while. For my primary source of income, I did a lot of freelance programming, which I still do, but now takes a back seat to this site, which is almost full-time.
Over the last six months, I really lowered the amount of freelance work I do and started focusing on partnerships and focusing more on the business side of the site.
WM: Do you have ads on the site?
Hawley: I don't use any ads — I am not really a big fan of them. There is a membership fee for players. If you become a member, you gain get twice as much time on the quizzes, and you're able to see more answers that you missed. At the end of the quiz, you get a stats page. There are three-month, six-month, year and lifetime memberships.
WM: It's great that you're able to show people's top scores on the site too.
Hawley: I like Sporcle, but I don't think it has that option. I've tried to focus a lot on the stats and give people something to shoot for.
WM: You have a social media presence on Twitter and Facebook. Is that mostly how people find the site?
Hawley: I would say right now it's more organic searches. The site has been around long enough that it's on the first page or two of some Google searches.
I occasionally also run ads on a few sites like Reddit and some other sites. I also get some traffic from posts and shares on social media.
MN: What would you say the pros and cons of running the site are?
Hawley: I'm in control. I decide everything and don't have to run it by anyone. It's all just me. At the same time, I'm doing all the work. When I want something done, I don't have an employee to do it. If there are any site issues, I'm dealing with them myself.
Fortunately, the site runs smoothly. It has almost very little downtime (if any) and a really good host. I somewhat know the back end of websites, so I can fix almost everything. And if I have an idea, I can implement it right away. I don't have to wait.
WM: How many quizzes do you upload a week?
Hawley: There are two things I do weekly — making new quizzes and updating ones that are already out there. I try to make a lot of the quizzes live meaning they self-update.
Let's say I have baseball quiz on the top 100 hitters of all time, and there's a game where some hitter breaks into the top 100. I have little programs that run overnight and update the data after each previous day's games automatically. I don't have to go in and insert the hitter into the quiz tomorrow. He'll just show up.
I can't do that with all of them, however. Some quizzes are posted once a year and need to be updated like a quiz on the Fortune 500 companies. In that case, I grab the data and add it to the quiz. A handful of quizzes usually get updated every week with new data.
As for new ones, I try to get out five to a dozen a week, Monday through Friday. I can work on stuff over the weekend, but I treat it like a workweek.
MN: Of course, you've got to take time for yourself. So how do you see the site developing over the next five years?
Hawley: I really want to grow partnerships. I want to get an employee soon, but that depends on the growth of the site. I would like to see the audience grow by a lot. These are my main goals. It's moderately popular now, but I'd like to see it grow quite a bit. I'm continually improving the quality of the site and getting a lot more content on it.
Eventually, I would love to get something going with like some major media player like IMDb for movie quizzes or ESPN for sports quizzes. I'm always trying to get in touch with people at larger companies with media presences to get something going.
WM: So my final question is what are some tips you have for budding entrepreneurs? What would you say is good advice for people who want to start their own business?
Hawley: It sounds cliche when people say, "Don't give up," but it's true. Huge Quiz was a lot smaller than it is now not too long ago. It was a hobby and a basic website that I made myself without help from a developer. It looked much more amateurish, but I just stuck with it. If you have enough good content, people will eventually find you and start following you.
Another thing I've done a bit more in the past few months is engage the users. I think it's important to make it known that you're there, and you'll respond to them if they have any questions. People email me through the contact form on the site, and I try to get back to them quickly.
I just made an Instagram page to give away memberships once a month, just to engage people more, get them to follow the site, and have more avenues to see it. Then I update it with quizzes of the week on the main page, just to keep users engaged.
Content is king. If you have 100 quizzes, that's a lot better than having 10 quizzes, but at the same time, you need quality content. I don't make quizzes that people aren't really interested in — I'm not going to have a quiz about the 10 greatest soccer players from Kazakhstan. It might be a handful of people that care about that, but not many.
I try to make quizzes that a lot of people will like, or at least people who are interested in a certain topic will like. A lot of quizzes that I thought weren't going to do well ended up blowing up and some that I thought would do well didn't get a lot of gameplays, but you really don't know until you put it out there. My advice is to keep thinking of ideas.
Want to test your knowledge? Check out the quiz games from Huge Quiz.