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TheStreet Open House

Passing $5M, Pono Kickstarter 'Changed My Life,' Neil Young Says

 NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- The Kickstarter campaign for PonoPlayer launched by Neil Young on March 11 passed the $5 million mark over the weekend, exceeding its original fundraising goal more than six times over and making it the fourth most funded project in the Web site's history.

In a statement issued over the weekend, Young noted the project, currently with $5.1 million and more than 15,000 backers, still has 15 days to go but that it had already "changed my life."

Young's dream of "rescuing an art form" by providing an end-to-end platform for high-quality digital versions of recorded music met frustration over the past three years as venture capital refused to sign on. He and his new company's CEO, John Hamm, showed up at SXSW in Austin with little funding and only a prototype -- no display, no product launch in sight.

So they did what any self-respecting rock band would do. They used the venue to launch a Kickstarter campaign. Their original goal of $800,000 was set just to allow them to complete work on bringing the player to market.

The goal was deliberately low to take advantage of Kickstarter psychology, which prefers projects that seem within reach. If they got more money than that, it could help marketing, showing off the grassroots popularity of the idea.

But even they were surprised by the result.

"What I underestimated was the community," Hamm told TheStreet in an interview last week.

Pledges of $400 or more entitle the backer to one of the artist signature versions of the PonoPlayer. Artists participating include James Taylor, Metallica, Dave Matthews Band, Foo Fighters, Beck and many others. The Neil Young signature model sold out in the first few hours, and likewise, the Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young model is also sold out.

With that kind of customer support and product backorder, "We are already a revenue company," Hamm told TheStreet last week on the phone.

In his message on the PonoMusic page, also published on Facebook, Young said, "When we blew through our goal and actually doubled it on the first day, you changed my life. I will never forget that."

The first limited edition of PonoPlayers is set for delivery in October, with a second shipment planned for December. Wider availability is expected to commence in January.

-- Written by Carlton Wilkinson in New York 

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