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Ouya secures $15 million in VC funding and delays retail launch as its CEO works to build a 'dream'

This morning, Ouya announced $15 million in additional funding earmarked to support developers and meet "greater than expected demand" for its retail launch, which slipped from June 4 to June 25, Ouya CEO Julie Uhrman told Polygon in an interview this week.

The new funding from Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers (KPCB), the Mayfield Fund, Nvidia, Shasta Ventures and Occam Partners represents a shift from the company's previous funding model, which began by taking the console directly to prospective players on Kickstarter.

Though venture capital funding has always been an area of interest for the company, it's been difficult to close that kind of deal.

"Look: Whenever you're investing in a company, you're taking a bet," she told Polygon. "You're taking a bet on the CEO, you're taking a bet on the team, you're taking a bet on the product and you're taking a bet that there is going to be an audience that wants that product. And sometimes those bets are easier, early."

First the players, then the traditional investors

In part, that explains why the company chose to begin with crowdfunding on Kickstarter last year.

"When we first went out and started talking to venture capitalists, we believed that there was a market for an open game console that was inexpensive and beautifully designed," she said. "We believed gamers would come. We believed developers would bring content. And we already had a lot of support from developers. But you still don't know. The flip side of that is to take it to Kickstarter and say, 'Here is this dream, and if you want it, we will build it.'"

There are two general camps of thought about the Ouya console, and today's announcement seems to indicate that the barrier between them is sometimes permeable. In the first camp are tens of thousands of backers who pledged over $8.5 million last year to fund the Ouya well beyond its $950,000 goal. Another camp is skeptical about funding a company that aims to deliver a credible $99 Android-based console less than a year after being announced.

Uhrman hopes to prove the latter camp wrong, and today's funding is part of her continuing initiative. One of the funders announced today switched between camps since Ouya's funding last August. The Mayfield Fund "passed the first time," Uhrman told Polygon, but is now backing the company in part because of its Kickstarter success.

A company with a console looking for validation

"We were able to get validation, and start building traction and momentum from our audience, both gamers and developers," she said. "And then when we went back to seek additional funding, they saw that there was excitement and enthusiasm and already millions of dollars spent in support of what it was we were building."

Uhrman acknowledges that the company's "path to market is incredibly unique and different" and was initially a difficult sell to venture capitalists, but she sees today's announcement as a sort of validation, based on public, developer and retail interest in Ouya.

As part of the funding, former Electronic Arts COO and KPCB general partner Bing Gordon will join Ouya's board of directors alongside Uhrman and chairman of the board Roy Bahat, a development that Uhrman says she's "beyond enthused" about.

"He's definitely not constrained by conventional thinking, and that's a perfect match for Ouya," she said. "And most importantly, he has always been the champion of game creators, and that is very much in line with the ethos of Ouya."

Uhrman seems to believe that Ouya has something to prove, and Gordon's appointment to the board is the latest in a series of additions to the "killer team" she told us she wants to build. She also pointed to Portal creator Kim Swift's recent announcement that her next game, Soul Fjord, will launch exclusively for Ouya.

Despite the new funding, the company is still exhibiting growing pains like the retail launch delay, which she said is due to unanticipated demand.

"What we're doing is hard. There's no question."

"We want to make sure that we have enough units to satisfy all the early orders and to make sure there's enough units on the shelf when we go live in June," she said.

In that delay, you'll find part of the reason Ouya sought additional funding, and Uhrman doesn't shy away from that.

"What we're doing is hard. There's no question," she said. "We're building a new game console that requires hardware and software. We're building a unique game ecosystem. We're convincing game developers that you want to be on Ouya and we have a ton of momentum and excitement around that.

"But this is going to be hard. We want to be there for the long run. My job is really to put together the best team that has done it before, seen it before and knows how to make it better."

For more on what we called an "early product full of potential energy," be sure to check out Polygon's recent Ouya hands-on impressions.

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