was now a punch line, and maybe a threat to safety. As of the
autumn of 2017, GoPro has delivered three solid quarters in a
row—growing revenue, cutting costs, meeting or beating guidance—and it claims it will return to steady proftability in 2018.
Still, Woodman makes clear, the past few years have left scars.
“The hardest thing is that it was such a long slide,”
Woodman says. “If you gafe it here or there, everybody
does, right? But when you’re sliding down the hillside
and wondering when you’re going to be able to stop, and
at times you’re not even sure why you’re sliding in the
frst place, and then you factor in that you’ve been so successful for so many years, you’re just like, ‘Wait. Where did
we start to suck at this? What is going on?’”
GOPRO REALLY S TARTED TO take of in the arly years of this decade. Point-of- view videos shot by GoPro cameras attached to surfoards, ski helmets, bike frames, and pets suddenly became ubiquitous on You Tube. Nobody had ever seen footage like this; it was a new, dizzy- ingly personal, and mes- merizing art form. Back then, Woodman
talked about a virtuous cycle that, he believed,
fueled the company’s growth. As people saw
more GoPro videos online, they’d become
inspired to buy GoPro cameras. The more that
happened, the more videos would be created
and shared online. The product created its
own advertising, in other words, and Woodman
intended to keep that going as much as possible.
He also made clear that, to spin the virtuous cycle
ever faster, GoPro would eventually have to
become a media company, he fgured. It was a
great marketing concept. It was also a trap that
would nearly kill his company.
Fast-forward to 2014. Woodman and one of his oldest GoPro
pals, Bradford Schmidt, went surfng at Greyhound Rock, a
legendary break near Santa Cruz. Schmidt, who had met Woodman in Indonesia on the trip that seeded the company, was
GoPro’s creative director, in charge of building out its You Tube
channel and creating inspiring promotional videos. Now the
company was considering investing heavily in media, and building an online platform for original, professionally produced
video—akin to its own version of Hulu—to further stoke camera
sales and build a whole new revenue stream around the content.
“Are you sure you want to do this?” Schmidt asked Woodman as they sat on their boards waiting for a wave.
“If we don’t,” Woodman said, “we’re always going to sit
and wonder why we didn’t.”
There was another important motivator. In the run-up
to the IPO, the debate about GoPro’s valuation coalesced
around two arguments. One camp argued that GoPro’s prod-
ucts could be easily replicated. The other camp argued that
GoPro’s unrealized potential as a media company was huge.
(Media companies’ stocks often trade at higher multiples
than those of hardware companies.) When the stock took
of, eventually valuing the company at nearly $15 billion,
that second argument became the prevailing wisdom.
“We couldn’t have a conversation about GoPro without
everybody wanting to talk about the media side of the business,”
Woodman says. And—in an apt reminder of how going public
can warp a company’s mission—by whipping up all the excitement about the media opportunity, GoPro created an imperative to pursue it, or else not live up to investors’ expectations.
“It wasn’t only like, ‘We should accelerate the build-out of our
media business so we can maintain the stock price,’ ” Woodman
remembers. “When your business is on fre and you have a high
valuation, you want to take responsible advantage of that.”
On top of that, GoPro’s virtuous cycle had been driven pri-
marily by users’ videos, even though ofoading camera footage,
editing it on a computer, and then sharing it on social media
was, at best, cumbersome. The company knew that it needed to
build better software to address those issues, but creating it was
no simple task. “We had to build an entirely new software
team,” Woodman says. “It was
a major reset, and was going
to take maybe two years to get
the software to where it could start to contribute to this vision.
So if we wanted to pursue a media strategy, we were going to
need to shift to more professional content.”
In 2014 and 2015, GoPro hired more than 100 stafers to bulk
up this nascent entertainment business, including a former CBS
executive to run it. The company started spending millions of
dollars to develop a slate of documentaries and TV-like series.
Then the core business started to sag.
THE LEGEND OF GOPRO revolves around Woodman and his surfng
buddies fguring it out on the fy. “There were about three of
us in engineering,” remembers Meghan Lafey, the company’s
33-year-old VP of product, who started almost eight years ago.
“We used the contract manufacturers’ engineers.” When she
discussed formal product testing with Woodman, she says, he
demurred, preferring to strap a camera to somebody’s surf-
board or dirt bike—“just doing fun stuf with it.”
“We didn’t know our ass from our elbow,” Woodman admits.
“We just had ideas. I remember going to meetings with the CEO
of the manufacturer of our frst digital camera, and I would
• SEA AND SKY
GoPro’s portability, ruggedness, and ease of use
gave the world an entirely new visual lexicon
for amateur photography. The two photos on the
opposite page were submitted to GoPro by fans.