Surfer rides billion-dollar GoPro wave
GoPro founder and CEO Nicholas Woodman kicked off his billion-dollar business by wanting to capture video of himself and his friends surfing.
A plan hatched 10 years ago at some of Australia and Indonesia's best beach breaks has delivered a billion-dollar fortune to a 36-year-old American who just wanted to find a better way to film himself and his friends surfing great waves.
Nick Woodman is the founder and CEO of GoPro, a wearable camera produced by Woodman Labs that can capture footage for cyclists as they whiz down a mountain, surfers as they tackle two-metre waves, or even drivers as they zip around a racetrack.
Late last month, technology company Foxconn purchased 8.88 per cent of Woodman's camera company for $US200 million ($A189.9 million). Woodman is believed to be the majority owner so even if he owns a minimum of 51 per cent of the company he is now America's newest billionaire, worth at least $US1.15 billion.
Inc.com interviewed the GoPro founder over the summer, painting a picture of a "total bro" who throws around the word "dude" frequently. He's a thrill-seeker and also the survivor of a failed dotcom startup.
A visual arts major from UC San Diego, he started a marketing company called funBag in the early 2000s.
He raised outside capital for the operation, and things were looking good. Then the tech bubble burst, and Woodman lost both his company and his job.
He was inspired to try again in 2002 and decided he needed to finance the operation by building something that could be instantly profitable.
An idea struck him while surfing in Australia and Indonesia for five months. Woodman had been frustrated that he couldn't take good action shots of himself or his friends while they were catching waves. Surfers were using disposable cameras strapped to their wrists with a rubber band that would often detatch in the middle of the action and hit them in the face.
Woodman wanted to invent a strong, adjustable elastic band that could secure a camera to a person's body as they participated in an extreme sport.
To fund the project, Woodman and his now-wife purchased 600 belts made of sea shells from a Bali market. Each cost them $US1.90. When the Woodmans returned to the US, they drove up and down California's coast selling the belts for as much as $US60 a pop.
With that money and a $US35,000 loan from his mother, Woodman created the first GoPro camera straps. It took him two years to perfect the product. The company's first break came in 2004, when a Japanese company ordered 100 items at an action sports tradeshow.
Eventually, Woodman began creating his own cameras and mounts, so extreme athletes such as racing drivers could point the cameras at themselves while racing. Enthusiasts began uploading videos of their GoPro experiences online, and word spread.
Now, GoPro's cameras retail for $300 with all sorts of add-ons that can be purchased to capture amazing moments in real-time. The company has grown to 150 people and Woodman is rolling in cash.