"Mighty little GoPro gets more heroic
By Jefferson Graham, USA TODAY
Posted 10/25/2011 9:10:36 PM
HALF MOON BAY, Calif. — Nick Woodman's GoPro cameras have ended up in the most out-of-the-way places. The small attachable camera has been mounted to bike helmets and surfboards, applied via a suction cup under a moving car and even harnessed to the chest of a sky diver.
The GoPro Hero has more than survived. It also has helped produce some of the most entertaining video footage on the Web. Fans post videos of their own extreme action on GoPro's YouTube channel, which has more than 63 million views, and on Facebook, where GoPro has more than a million fans.
This week, GoPro's legion of devoted customers got GoPro Hero 2, a new HD device that Woodman says is "twice as powerful" as the first edition and has sharper resolution (11 megapixels, up from 5) greatly improved sound (a microphone input for improved audio) and full 1080p resolution, up from 720p. Like the previous model, the new GoPro sells for $299.99.
"This is two years in the making," says Woodman, 36, who started GoPro in 2002, and sold a wrist accessory attached to a one-time-use film camera for taking photos while surfing. Digital video, in 10-second bursts, was added in 2006. And in 2009, Hi-Def made its debut in the first Hero camera.
It's the 3-3-ounce Hero that put the company on the map, thanks to social media and word of mouth. "Our customers are growing the company for us," CEO Woodman says. "They like to share their videos, and it's impossible to share without someone saying 'How did you do that?' The answer: GoPro."
Rick Iossi, a GoPro user from Fort Lauderdale, uses the camera for kite surfing. He dons a camera on the kite and a second one on his helmet. "It gets this amazing, huge panoramic view," he says. "For the money, you can't beat it. It's extremely versatile."
GoPro this summer expanded beyond specialty stores to Best Buy, a move that was "huge" for the company, says Chris Chute, an analyst at researcher IDC. It effectively tripled GoPro's sales -- making it "the fastest-growing camera company," Chute says.
He estimates that GoPro will sell 500,000 cameras this year worldwide, compared with Kodak's estimated 13 million for its line of Pocket video cameras. But while Kodak's business is ailing, GoPro's is thriving, even with its smaller sales.
GoPro's $300 cameras have higher margins than Kodak's heavily discounted $199 ones, for example, and GoPro's focus on just one type of product -- small cameras -- serves it well.
Privately held GoPro won't reveal company financials, but Woodman says his employee count has jumped to 120, from seven at the beginning of 2010 and 50 at the beginning of 2011. Many new hires are GoPro fans he met after they posted their action videos on YouTube.
GoPro cameras have become a staple of broadcasts such as CBS' 60 Minutes, BBC's Top Gear and National Geographic's Explorer -- anywhere there's action or a need to hide a camera in a tiny crevice or corner.
Ian Kerr, a freelance cinematographer in British Columbia, says he uses GoPro on productions for National Geographic and Discovery. "At first, we wrote it off as a toy," he says. "Now it's a standard piece of equipment on everything we do. We rely on it far more than we expected to. The quality is amazing."
GoPro isn't the only company selling wearable cameras. There are many, notably Contour, whose HD cameras start at $119 and Looxcie, a phone headset that attaches to the ear and also shoots hours of video at the same time.
Neither have the huge social media following of GoPro. Contour's YouTube viewers are a combined 600,000 views, a tiny fraction of GoPro's community.
The Hero is unusual for a digital camera in that you can't see images as you compose unless you spring for the $79.99 LCD accessory that snaps onto the back. The LCD is just one of many add-ons Woodman sells -- including suction cups, underwater housings, handlebars and even head-strap mounts -- that keep the dollars pouring in.
Want to go 3-D? There's a $99 accessory to combine two Hero cameras for third-dimension videos.
Woodman, an active sports enthusiast, says he based the company in surf-friendly Half Moon Bay "to practice what we preach." He surfs at least one morning a week, and on weekends can often be found behind the wheel of his 1966 Ford GT40 race car replica, promoting GoPro at local racing tracks. Other GoPro staffers are out testing and demonstrating the camera at bike races, motorcycle and aviation meets -- anywhere there's gatherings of extreme sports fans.
"We all actively engage in the sports that we develop our products for," he says.
That GoPro has expanded so far from Woodman's original notion of a wrist camera is "just wild," he says.
"I feel like I'm in a dream, even though I know it's real," he says. "GoPro is so much bigger than I ever imagined it could be. I just thank the universes every day.""