GoPro: The Icarus of an American Camera
Written by Heath Foster, Media Analytics Executive
Saltwater crashed over Nick Woodman’s surfboard, the brine soaking his eyes as a water-lace trail extended behind him. Strapped to his wrist with a rubber band, his 35mm film camera was blanketed by the cool sea spray. Mechanically, the shutter clicked, and the roll wound to the following exposure. While the amateur action shots of himself somewhat worked, he wanted more. This moment of trial and innovation off Australia’s coast would revolutionize the camera and action-sports worlds.
Nick Woodman, CEO
One of the more meteoric rises in recent memory, GoPro capitalized on a gap in both the aforementioned industries by developing an affordable, durable camera that captured decent quality images by amateur photographers or videographers. Inherently, the cameras weren’t good to start. They were horrible, especially when compared to the industry standard models. Yet, people didn’t care. They bought into the surfer lifestyle peddled by Woodman, and the concept of owning a personal action-sport camera led sales to skyrocket by 2014.
Consumers were the company’s most valuable marketing asset while exploding into the market. Coinciding perfectly with the rise of YouTube’s popularity, GoPro took advantage of the social media craze by investing heavily in content creation. By paying stuntmen and extreme athletes to showcase their skills on the versatile camera, GoPro inspired the notion that everyday people could be a part of action sports. The result: thousands of hours of free publicity where everyday people post their own videos with #GoPro and #BeAHero. Ultimately, the virality of the cameras derived from non-paid individuals sent the company into orbit.
However, what goes up must come down. After topping $1.5 billion in annual revenues after its 2014 IPO, GoPro began hemorrhaging cash. Despite a successful launch, the drone program, Karma, was killed due to a host of mechanical issues and recalls. Additional unsound investments into virtual reality and the 3D market stripped the company of its foundational core. With yearly camera releases issuing nothing more than lackluster updates, the rising popularity of smartphones diminished the need for these small, portable cameras.
Sales then dropped off a cliff in the wake of the pandemic. GoPro was no longer a reasonable $400 discretionary holiday gift with most of the world on unstable economic footing. Additionally, the company, reliant on access to the outdoors, struggled mightily with intensive lockdowns, and further travel restrictions left investors running, skating, and hang-gliding away from the company.
Most would have seen GoPro as dead in the water – a one-trick pony that raced the same track for too long. Nick Woodman saw it in a different way. By completely restructuring the business to a direct-to-consumer model, GoPro introduced a subscription package and leaned heavily into promoting its online store. The shift allowed the company to substantially reduce its operating expenses, improve gross margins, and provide a reduced threshold for profitability. Subscribers on the platform have already surpassed two million, a figure which translates into $100 million in annual recurring revenue. GoPro might be limping, but it’s clawing its way back to relevancy.