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SXSW 2013: Ouya's Julie Uhrman Bet It All on Kickstarter
© Image: Ouya

SXSW 2013: Ouya's Julie Uhrman Bet It All on Kickstarter

AUSTIN -- In a keynote interview here at the 2013 South By Southwest Interactive festival, Ouya CEO Julie Uhrman told the audience and interviewer Joshua Topolsky that although she had been working on Ouya for some time before raising a million dollars in eight hours (and ultimately over 8 million dollars total) on Kickstarter, the entire venture all hinged on the crowdfunding campaign.

Uhrman said she was bleary-eyed in pajamas and Ugg boots when she pressed the button near daybreak to make the Kickstarter campaign live. Later that day, she knew the project would soon grow beyond her control when friends and family begin to report calling in sick from work to stay home and compulsively refresh and monitor the Ouya campaign page.

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However, not everyone was quick to jump on the Ouya bandwagon. Uhrman had neglected to create even a basic company webpage for Ouya, and when one reporter speculated that the campaign was likely a scam, the negative publicity spread far and wide.

"For some time that story was one of the first things that came up when you searched for Ouya," Uhrman recalled.

Ouya proved able to overcome the rumors of its nonexistence, clearly, and is currently preparing to ship the Android-based gaming console to backers later this month. Backers who chipped in more for a special developers version have already received theirs. Ouya has also begun taking orders for the retail version of the hardware, which goes on sale on Amazon and at Target, Best Buy and others in June. 

But Uhrman clearly sees the crowdfunding world that gave Ouya its start as more than just a way of going round the traditonal Silicon Valley funding structures.

"(It's part of a) new hardware movement to engage fans and say 'do you actually want this?' There's no special sauce. Here's my specs. Here it is"

Tens of thousand of people did want what Ouya was offering. Uhrman recalled the moment the Kickstarter campaign met its goal on the first day as "when we lost conrol."

She says that from that moment forward, nearly all the company's activities shifted from planning and dreaming to fulfilling orders and delivering on the promises made in the campaign. 

And Ouya has done so better than many crowdfunding campaigns that run into snags on the fulfillment side of things. Uhrman said that the millions of dollars that came from backers has been enough to run the business and fill the orders for backers.

Uhrman also explained that the community created around the Kickstarter campaign quickly became a means of crowdsourcing the console's development as well as crowdfunding it. She recalled be contacted by supporters who were concerned by the fact that the controlled design included colored buttons, pointing out that as much as 8 percent of males are color blind.

Based on that feedback, it was ultimately decided that the controller buttons should feature letters. That change was actually made during the span of the initial Kickstarter campaign, and set a precedent for other additions and amendments derived from Ouya's fanbase in the ensuing months. 

It's still less than a year later, but Ouya has continued to grow. Partnerships have been forged with other crowdfunded game titles, and with heavyweights of the gaming industry. Further, Uhrman said she expects to have agreements in place soon to bring big content providers like Netflix, Google and Hulu to Ouya. 

At this pace, Ouya could wind up being the first crowdfunded takeover over the living room. 

 - Eric Mack is Managing Editor for  He has covered business, technology and politics for more than a decade for major outlets including CNET, CBS, AOL, NPR, Wired, and the New York Times.  You can contact him at Find him on Twitter and Google+. Also be sure to follow on Twitter and join our Crowdsourcing community on Google+.

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