When someone thinks of a camera to use while playing sports, traveling, or any kind of immersive activity, GoPro is almost assuredly the first name that comes to mind. A major technology success story over the past two decades, GoPro has become synonymous with the name of the entire action camera industry. As Kleenex is to tissues, GoPro is to action cameras.
When GoPro was founded two decades ago, few could imagine that an entirely new tech vertical would be born as a result. Now, GoPro is a billion-dollar brand that continues to innovate and lead the action camera market year after year.
So, how did this company that started out of a Volkswagen van and one 35mm action camera grow into the action camera category leader it is today? Let’s find out!
|Technology, Videography, and Consumer Electronics
|San Mateo, California
|GoPro Hero series, GoPro Max, GoPro Black Bones
The History of GoPro: What to Know
The GoPro story begins in 2002 when GoPro founder, Nick Woodman, took a trip to Australia but was disappointed when he learned that amateur photographers couldn’t afford the equipment to take quality pictures of their travels.
Woodman decided at this point that he would need to find a better way to film him and his friends surfing. And so the name “GoPro” was born as Woodman and his friends were looking at “going pro” as professional surfers and wanted to photograph themselves catching waves.
To start building and funding its first camera system, Woodman created and sold bead and shell belts out of his old Volkswagen van. Between this and some money he received from his parents, he was able to start GoPro with more than $230,000 in capital.
The first and original GoPro camera was born as a 35mm reusable device and was named “Hero” as the name felt like it would make the subjects of any action shots look like a “hero.” Introduced to the world at the San Diego Action Sports Retailer trade show, this first product preview would help GoPro sell $150,000 worth of products in its first year.
GoPro founder and CEO, Nick Woodman, appears on QVC television to promote his company’s action cameras and sells more than 3,000 pieces in ten minutes. It’s a big win for the company and is one of the first times Woodman and GoPro are able to get in front of a sizable TV audience.
After two years of successful sales including $350,000 in revenue in 2005, GoPro and Woodman, who were urged by friends to do so, switched to digital over film and released the first model of the company’s now mega-popular GoPro Hero action camera. The original Hero feels like a blast from the past as it could only film in VGA quality and capture a maximum of ten-second increments. On top of the video limitations, it was also just limited to video as it could not record audio or snap photographs.
What a difference a year makes as in 2007, the GoPro Hero3 is on store shelves and limitations around video recording are dropped. This year marks a transitional moment in the company’s history as GoPro becomes synonymous with action sports and becomes the industry standard for capturing active footage of athletes.
That the GoPro Hero3 could go up to 100 feet underwater was huge as scuba diving photography and video had long been relegated to more professional and expensive equipment. The Hero3 quickly becomes the every-person camera and begins to sell to customers outside of the action and sports world.
GoPro’s revenue has grown to over $500 million dollars per year and the action camera industry has grown enough to give rise to competition. JVC and Sony are among the names that have jumped into the space but GoPro is already well-positioned as the market leader to beat.
Even as GoPro continuously improves GoPro Hero products over time, it would be in 2014 when the company would enable 170-degree lenses within its cameras to capture wider shots. This marks another turning point for the brand as it again positions itself as the industry leader with a fixed-lens HD camera that can capture wide angles, all from a camera that fits in your pocket.
Two or more of these cameras can be paired to create a 360-degree video, which is fantastic news for action sports and GoPro users all over the world.
This year also saw a major move in GoPro as the company first filed with the SEC to go public. On June 25, 2014, GoPro IPOs sold more than 17.8 million shares to initial investors at $24 per share. By the time of the IPO, the company is valued just shy of $3 billion.
A major marketing coup for GoPro comes in the form of a partnership with the hugely popular live-streaming service, Periscope. It was an exciting time at the company and saw all kinds of activity online, including GoPro-sponsored athletes live-streaming swimming with sharks. All you needed was an iPhone, a GoPro camera, and a cable, and you could live stream anywhere in the world at the touch of a button on your camera.
2017 and Later
GoPro continues to market arguably the best action cameras in the business, though the competition is fiercer than ever, thanks to the likes of DJI, Insta360, and Akaso. It’s been up and down for GoPro as a whole, which has seen layoffs including 20% of its workforce in response to COVID-19. However, the company continues to launch new products, including the recently released GoPro HERO11.
GoPro Through the Decades
Phase 1 (2002-2009)
The first and most important part of the GoPro story takes place between 2002 and 2009 when the company starts out, finds its footing, and begins to shape an industry. It’s during this time that the company makes the move from photography-only to video-only, and then to both photography and video.
Now the name is synonymous with action cameras but it’s during this first phase of GoPro history that the “Hero” name is introduced. The name’s ability to not only stuck around but become a verb for action cameras as a whole is a testament to the work GoPro did during this first phase of the company.
This is also the decade that sees GoPro find its first major competitor with the release of the iPhone 3GS. As the first iPhone with the ability to capture video and a size that wasn’t all that much larger than the GoPro, it was a challenge for GoPro to reposition its camera as the better option. Flip cameras, a business that went under as fast as it rose to prominence, also gave GoPro a run for its money, but GoPro would end this decade as the leading action sports camera.
Phase 2 (2010-2020)
Undoubtedly the most important decade in GoPro’s history so far, there are many firsts during this period. This includes its first partnership for live streaming, going public as a company, as well as a few of its first major failures, including a doomed drone launch.
GoPro’s partnership with Periscope in 2016 was short-lived as Periscope was around only for a few years, but it represented a huge step forward in showing the value of GoPro for action camera users. Smartphones are great for live streaming but can hardly stand up to different environments, extreme temperatures, and underwater performance.
The IPO of GoPro in 2014 was big news as it gave GoPro a significantly increased market position by increasing available cash flow for future research and development.
The biggest downside of this phase for GoPro was the launch of its consumer drone, the GoPro Karma (and Karma Grip) in October 2016. This product was marred by issues leading up to its launch and was immediately met with customer complaints leading to the product being pulled in January 2018.
2021 to Present Day
GoPro continues to lead the action camera field with its Hero lineup including the Hero11 set to be released on October 25, 2022. While not hugely different than the Hero10, the Hero11 increases the sensor size as well as increases resolution to 27 megapixels. Hypersmooth 5.0 will also be introduced with the Hero11, the latest in the company’s staple platform that allows for smooth recording during action sequences.
Most Important Inventions from GoPro
Undoubtedly the most important invention from GoPro is its action camera lineup. The Hero camera lineup has been available in multiple forms and, while the upcoming model is the 11th named device, there are almost double the number of cameras from GoPro that has carried that name since the company’s forming.
Twenty-two Hero models in all have been released by the company since 2012 alone, never mind the number of models that came during the previous decade. The Hero camera is ubiquitous in the action camera world and, because of features like Hypersmooth, time-lapse, 4K video, excellent photography, and the ability to withstand extreme temperatures, they will continue to be the GoPro staple product for many years to come.
While a product failure overall, the GoPro Karma was an important invention for the company as it represents the first time they thought outside the action camera box. After working with DJI for two years trying to build a drone model, GoPro decided to go at it alone and eventually released the first Karma in early 2016, only to have customers complain about the drone losing power during operation. GoPro would discontinue the Karma lineup in early 2018 and refund all customer purchases.
GoPro 360-Degree Cameras
The launch of the GoPro 360-degree camera in November 2017 has led to the development of the GoPro Max. While still firmly in GoPro’s action camera space, the “Max” differentiates itself by focusing on 360-degree footage. Essentially, the Max is 3 cameras in one with spherical footage, HERO-style video and photos, and a vlogging tool.
How Does GoPro Make Money?
This is a pretty easy question to answer as GoPro sells its Hero and Max lineup of cameras through its website and retailers around the world. In 2021, GoPro announced that their camera lineup with retail prices at $300 or more represented more than 97% of the company’s total camera revenue.
On top of hardware, in 2021, GoPro made over $52.9 million from subscription revenue for its cloud-based service which costs $49.99 a year. For the price, subscribers receive up to 50% off products from GoPro.com, $100 off a new GoPro, and unlimited cloud backup.
On top of both cameras and subscription revenue, GoPro also sells lifestyle gear like t-shirts and backpacks. Their accessory lineup is also a great source of revenue with a large assortment of different mounts, extended life batteries, lens mods, and more, all accounting for an additional revenue source.
Over its twenty-year history, GoPro has made a number of acquisitions beginning in 2011.
In March 2011, GoPro acquired CineForm, a “leading developer of video compression and workflow” technology that specialized in work for the film and television industries. The CineForm 3D film work had been previously seen in popular films such as Need for Speed and Slumdog Millionaire.
The first work with the CineFlow technology was in the GoPro 3D Hero system for the 1080p Hero lineup of cameras which enabled 3D photos and videos. GoPro has not disclosed how much it paid for CineForm as it was not a public company at the time.
In April 2015, GoPro announced it acquired the spherical media company, Kolor. Kolor’s technology was utilized to stitch together multiple photographs or videos and produce high-resolution panoramas. Kolor was responsible for apps like Autopano, Autopano Video, and Pantone.
The Kolor apps would remain available to the public until September 14, 2018, when GoPro would stop selling them through their respective sales channels. All Kolor employees joined GoPro as employees even as no price was announced for the acquisition.
Stupeflix and Vemory
On February 29, 2016, GoPro made two acquisition announcements at the same time, acquiring Stupeflix and Vemory for $105 million in total. The apps from the two companies, Splice and Replay, would form the backbone of the mobile editing solution GoPro was developing for its customers.
Replay was developed by Stupeflix and allowed users of the app to select video clips or photos and combine them into one single video. Users could then add synchronized music, graphics, effects, and more to personalize the videos.
Splice was developed by Vemory and was another mobile editor that enabled app users to create customized video edits using tools that would normally be found on desktop-level video editing applications. These apps would help establish the backbone for Quik, GoPro’s video editing app that’s available on Android and iOS.
GoPro announced the acquisition of ReelSteady, a company known for its “mind-blowing cinematic effects” for drone users on March 13, 2020. GoPro saw promise with ReelSteady’s, “next-level visual effects,” according to GoPro CEO Nick Woodman, so the integration was naturally felt between both teams.
Interestingly enough, GoPro would continue to sell ReelSteady after the acquisition until April 11, 2022, when the app was finally integrated into GoPro’s existing video editing tool set. The two companies did not disclose a purchase price.
GoPro Notable Controversies
One of the controversies that enveloped GoPro was the release and subsequent cancellation of the company’s first efforts to enter the drone space. After failing to reach a deal with DJI to release a variant of a GoPro drone using DJI technology in 2014, GoPro turned to 3D Robotics for help. After 3D Robotics failed to meet multiple timelines and GoPro expectations, GoPro took control of ongoing development in the middle of 2015.
By early 2016, after several delays, GoPro finally announced their drone would be ready on October 23rd, 2016. Upon launch, customer complaints began to immediately pop up as drones started to fail while in flight, leading to broken products. GoPro reacted quickly and recalled all of the products that had been sold offering customers full refunds.
GoPro would attempt to resolve the issues with the Karma drone technology and re-release the Karma in February 2017. Unfortunately, the company’s reputation was already damaged and the drone was a commercial failure.
In January 2018, when the Karma was officially canceled, it also resulted in a 20 percent reduction of GoPro’s total workforce and the company had to cut projected revenue in the fourth quarter of 2018 by more than $140 million dollars due to the $80 million hit that would stem from discounting the remaining inventory of the Karma drones.
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