Red-tailed hawks wheel around the sky outside the wall of
windows of the GoPro founder’s hilltop ofce in San Mateo,
California. A few miles east and far below, the San Francisco Bay
twinkles in the late-September light. Mementos of a life spent
surfng around the world, driving racecars, and hanging out with
his heroes, like surfng legend Kelly Slater, line the credenza
behind Woodman’s desk.
A day ago, the 42-year-old Woodman stood center stage
in the planetarium at the California Academy of Sciences and
introduced his company’s latest cameras and services, along
with virtual-reality videos projected onto the room’s domed
ceiling to show of all the new tricks the products can pull of.
Today, a bit bleary from the festivities that followed, Woodman
is opening up about the long, difcult journey that led to this
launch—one that saw his publicly traded company’s stock
bottom out below $8 a share, down from the high of $98.
After a decade of breakneck growth, GoPro held one of
the most successful tech IPOs of 2014, which earned Woodman
comparisons to Steve Jobs. But the past two years have been a
cautionary tale: botched product rollouts, sweeping layofs, a
giant new initiative shuttered. The company was proftable each
year following its bootstrapped launch, but it has lost money
every quarter from the end of 2015 until the third quarter of 2017.
The nadir came in late 2016. That September, after a devastating year of setbacks, GoPro announced a long-awaited new
product, a drone called the Karma. Within a few weeks of the
release, drones were losing power midfight and falling from the
sky. The product intended to herald GoPro’s triumphant comeback was, literally, crashing to the ground, and sooner or later one
would hit somebody. Maybe a child. That thought, amid a long
retelling of company woes, is what makes Woodman break down.
The company that he dreamed up on an extended 2002 trip to
Australia and Indonesia because he wanted to flm himself surf-ing, that created an entirely new product category and the world’s
best-selling camera, that made him and his best friends who
joined the company early on fabulously wealthy—that company