When OUYA launched the enormously successful Kickstarter campaign for its Android-based gaming console, CEO Julie Uhrman said she had “no idea” whether it would succeed.
“I was scared shitless,” she said.
Uhrman, who gave a keynote interview this afternoon at South by Southwest Interactive, admitted, “our path to market was unique” (though thanks to Kickstarter it’s becoming less unique). After all, when the campaign launched, there was no product — just an idea and a team. There wasn’t even really a website, but instead a URL that redirected to the OUYA kickstarter campaign.
On the first day of the campaign, Uhrman said she was awake at 5:45 in the morning to hit the button for the Kickstarter page to go live. That, she said, was “the moment where we no longer had control.” The team had no way to know how people would respond to the idea, or even if someone might decide to copy it: “There is no special sauce here.”
For the next few hours, Uhrman said she was busy sending out emails. Her family and close friends came over a few hours later, and they all called in sick as they kept refreshing the page to get the latest numbers. By lunchtime, she said they knew that “this was something” and there was “a void in the marketplace” for a more open, affordable game console supporting a broader ecosystem of games. Eight hours and 22 minutes after launching, OUYA had raised $1 million, shooting past its $950,000 goal. In the end, it raised $8.6 million.
Uhrman said that amount is enough to run the company and to deliver the first big wave of consoles to Kickstarter backers (shipments are supposed to start on March 28). However, she said that the real key was enlisting the support of 63,416 Kickstarter backers — if she’d raised the money from a single investor, it wouldn’t have been enough to get OUYA to where it is today. In fact, Uhrman said that she’d tried to raise money through more traditional avenues, but no one wanted to invest in a hardware startup.
Not that the response to the campaign was entirely positive. For the first two or three months after it launched, Uhrman said the top Google result was a PCMag article titled “Why Kickstarter’s Ouya Looks Like A Scam.” The skepticism, Uhrman said, came from that aforementioned non-traditional path. So why didn’t she even bother with the website?
“The reality is, I just focused on one thing, which was the campaign,” she said.
The Verge’s Josh Topolsky, who was conducting the interview, followed up by joking asking, “Is OUYA a scam?” To show that it’s not, Uhrman called out for anyone who had already tried out the developer units (the company said it shipped 1,200 of those units). One audience member said that they had, and that it definitely wasn’t a scam. (Whew.)
Uhrman said that what OUYA has already accomplished in terms of creating the console was hard, but the real challenge is building an ecosystem of game developers. There are 481 titles announced so far, she said — they include some notable wins, including the console exclusive for Double Fine Adventure, Tim Schaefer’s Kickstarter-financed game.
Beyond recounting OUYA’s history so far, Uhrman also talked about her broader vision for the company, which we covered in a separate post.