Why GoPro’s Success Isn’t Really About the Cameras

GoPro’s Hero 3 camera Jae C. Hong/AP
Millions of people have used GoPro’s wearable cameras to record their every sky-diving, drone-flying, shark-riding adventure. But the San Mateo, California-based company might have just pulled off the greatest stunt of all with the biggest initial public offering of a consumer electronics company in more than 20 years. There’s a good reason we haven’t seen any consumer electronics companies go public recently (Skullcandy’s $189 million IPO in 2011 is the most recent), and that’s because smartphones—and the gargantuan companies that make them—can do and build almost everything and anything. On any given day, our phones can act as a GPS system, a video game console, a fitness tracker, a stereo, a camera, and oh yeah, a telephone, all in one. To launch a standalone consumer electronics company that does just one thing, even if it can do that one thing really, really well, is a risky endeavor in the age of the smartphone. All of that makes GoPro, which raised $427 million at a valuation of $2.96 billion in its IPO, something of an anomaly. After all, it was just a few years ago that the Flip Video camera, another gadget that dominated the camcorder market for a time, foundered, rendered obsolete by the proliferation of smartphones with ever-improving cameras. Even as the Flip floundered, however, GoPro, which sold its first camera in 2004, flourished. What separates GoPro from Flip is that all along, GoPro has sold consumers not on the camera, itself, but on something the smartphone can’t easily replace: the experience of using the camera. “They don’t just sell a video camera, they sell the memory of the wave or the ski trip down the slope,” says Ben Arnold, a consumer technology industry analyst at The NPD Group. “I think we are entering an age where lifestyle in technology is becoming very important.” That’s the reason, Arnold says, that brands like Beats and FitBit have done so well. They say something about the people who wear them. The iPhone might have been a status symbol when it was first introduced. Now, it’s a utility that says as much about its owner as the fact that she is wearing shoes. But when you see someone with one of those GoPro Hero 3 cameras strapped to her chest, it’s a signal to the world that she is about to do something awesome. The company has its customers to thank for helping it build that reputation. Following the lead of GoPro’s thrill-seeking CEO and founder Nick Woodman, GoPro users have flooded the Internet with videos of their own adventures. In 2013 alone, GoPro customers uploaded 2.8-years worth of video featuring GoPro in the title, according to the company’s S-1 filing. In the first quarter of 2014, people watched over 50 million hours of videos with GoPro somewhere in the title, filename, tag, or description. Each video not only serves as a customer testimonial, but as guerrilla advertising, giving potential customers millions of reasons why they should buy one of GoPro’s clunky little cameras. And so, despite the fact that GoPro only sells cameras (and accessories and mounts for cameras), it became better known as an adventure sports brand than as a camera manufacturer.
Now, the challenge ahead for GoPro is to start making money not just on cameras, but on the brand, too. In its S-1, the company admitted that it depends on camera sales “for substantially all of our revenue, and any decrease in the sales of these products would harm our business.” At the same time, the company wrote, “We do not expect to continue to grow in the future at the same rate as we have in the past.” That prediction is already coming true. Last year, GoPro’s year-over-year revenue growth fell to 87 percent from 125 percent the year before. To avoid saturating the market, GoPro is now looking to turn itself into a media company. Already, it’s planning to launch a GoPro Channel on Xbox Live, and recently it made a deal with Virgin America to license videos for in-air entertainment. While GoPro hasn’t taken in any revenue from these deals yet, the company’s S-1 says that this year it will begin earning revenue from advertising on its Xbox, Virgin America, and YouTube channels. If GoPro can make this transition successfully (and that’s a big if), it could serve as an exemplary model of what it takes to build a successful consumer electronics company in a smartphone-dominated world. As Adam Dornbusch, GoPro’s head of content distribution, recently summed it up for Variety, “The camera is just the tool to get to content.”
SourceISSIE LAPOWSKY, http://www.wired.com, 29th June, 2014
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