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Nicholas Woodman
Founder and CEO
GoPro

Ironically, Woodman’s inspiration to develop GoPro came as he was trying to recover from the failure of his first internet business, a marketing start-up he’d launched after graduating from college. While he raised some $4 million in venture capital and made all the right moves, the company didn’t survive the dot-com crash. Failure was one thing, but the stress of losing other people’s money forced Woodman to reassess his goals and focus on building a business based on a true passion: surfing.

An avid surfer, Woodman had long realized how frustrating it was for surfers to get great shots and footage of themselves while they were riding the waves. All that was available at the time were disposable cameras attached to their wrists. However, the photo quality was terrible, and the cameras often flew off, sometimes hitting surfers in the face.

To counter that possibility, Woodman thought of developing a wearable camera that could be secured with a wrist strap and worn during extreme sports, like skiing and surfing. Just as important, the camera would take high-quality photos.

That concept turned into the catalyst for Woodman to found GoPro, which now holds a commanding share of the US video camera market — up to 55% when specialty channel shops are included.

From beads to seed

In the beginning, moving from concept to development was difficult. Woodman and his wife sold bead and shell belts from Bali to raise seed money. Woodman kept the company small, hiring family members and close friends who shared his passion. He also put in 16-hour days, sometimes not even sleeping as he perfected the product. When the first camera was ready, Woodman personally drove to surf shops to demonstrate and sell the camera.

The small company grew steadily. But, when business really began to pick up, Woodman recognized he couldn’t do everything himself and sought help from beyond his inner circle. Bringing in outside talent helped transform the business. With a strong executive team in place, GoPro has rapidly built out its infrastructure, increasing headcount from 135 employees to more than 400 within the last year.

Becoming a social media icon

At its start, GoPro was primarily a wrist camera for surfers. YouTube changed the equation, with video quality replacing photo quality as the primary driver of buyer decisions. GoPro met the shift in consumer interests and focused on building outstanding video cameras, introducing its first high-definition video camera in 2009.

YouTube and social media have also become a powerful marketing channel, turning GoPro into one of the most engaged brands in social media, according to Inc., as measured by brand audience rate of engagement. GoPro’s passionate fan base of five million customers has racked up 235 million views on the GoPro Network on YouTube. GoPro videos, like the one of a mountain biker in Africa colliding with a gazelle, have gone viral to the tune of more than 12 million hits.

GoPro’s popularity on YouTube also confirms that the company is selling more than just cameras — it is also helping customers share meaningful experiences online.

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