GoPro or Go Home

Nick Woodman can be referred to as the founder and CEO of the action camera brand GoPro, but many of his closest friends and colleagues refer to him as a surf loving adventurist with the trademarked excited wail: “YEEEEEEEEEEEEEOW”.

He is one of the youngest billionaires with a net worth of around $1.3 billion and his journey to finding and building the GoPro brand to what it is today started off with a single decision to SURF. Woodman declares that if he never decided to hit those waves, he never would have come up with the idea of creating a wrist camera. See what the wrist mount looks like today.

 Nick Woodman holds the first GoPro Prototype

Nick hits the ground before hitting the waves

A few years after college (where he studied Visual Arts) Woodman’s gaming service, FunBug, went down after the 2000 dot-com crash and took with it $3.9 million of investors’ money. Nick hit rock bottom early in his life and refers back to this experience as one of the main reasons for his success. “I never wanted to fail again,” Nick admits.

In order to get his head straight again he set out on travelling and surfing in Australia and Indonesia and saw it as the last trip before settling into a 9 to 5 middle class workforce. Whilst hitting the waves he badly desired a device to record his surfing exploits to share with his friends. He altered a contraption he’d made out of a broken surfboard leash and rubber bands that allowed him to dangle a Kodak disposable camera to his wrist for easy operation. This was the beginning of the many GoPro accessories for various activities on the market today!

Five months into being a surf bum, a newly recharged Woodman returned to California with the seed of an idea. He armed himself with a drill and his mother’s sewing machine to strap a Camelback filled half with Gatorade and half with water to his back for 18-hour work sessions. He gave himself only four years to make it work or else enter the workforce.

GoPro as a start-up

GoPro grossed $350,000 in its first full year of sales. Woodman was the all-in-one product engineer, operations manager, salesman and marketer. He rang up surf shops across the country hoping to get some of the product out of his father’s home. He would drive across country to set up trade show booths and sleep over in his 1979 Volkswagen kombi (affectionately named ‘Biscuit’).

Nick and his dad next to 'Biscuit', his 1979 VW kombi

At the outset Woodman dropped in $30,000 of his own money, as well as $35,000 from his mother and two $100,000 investments from his father. Woodman and his future wife, Jill, financed the business by selling shell necklaces they bought in Bali (for $1.90) from their car along the California coast (for $60). The company made money from that point and today boasts profit margins, FORBES estimates, around 15%. Read more on the various GoPro accessories for water use.

What about the future of GoPro?

Meanwhile GoPro must now deal with the big boys, who have finally taken note of his success. Sony shipped its first action cameras in September 2013 and says it is positioning itself as a “strong number two” with features like image stabilization and stereo sound, which GoPro currently lacks. Other action camera competitors include Drift, AEE, Oregon Scientific, Sony and even Garmin. Woodman says that the market he created is big enough for multiple companies and that GoPro will keep striving to innovate and develop.  

The one thing that makes GoPro so popular with the consumer is the wide selection of accessories available for a multitude of activities (not only surf), and not to mention the surge of GoPro videos hitting YouTube as well as the new capability of sending your GoPro flying with a quadcopter.

GoPro is capable of so many things thanks to the various accessories available

What do you think of Nick Woodman's story and the future of GoPro and the new industry it has created?