GoPro announces IPO plans, looks to cash in on a decade of smart choices

By James Robinson , written on February 7, 2014

From The News Desk

In a move that surprised nobody, the briefest of brief press releases issued by GoPro this morning announced that it has filed its papers with the SEC for a coming initial public stock offering. The company had already toyed with going public in 2012 before selling off 8.8 percent of the company to FoxConn for $200 million.

No one, however, was expecting the news today, given that new Chief Financial Officer Jack Lazar was only officially appointed on Tuesday and the New York Times suggested after interviewing GoPro Founder and CEO Nick Woodman last week that the IPO was coming sometime “this year.”

GoPro filed its IPO paperwork anonymously, courtesy of a new provision from the 2012 JOBS Act. (Twitter took advantage of the same rule last year, as did Box last month.) This means that it won’t have to publicly release its financial statements until 21 days before it begins its roadshow. The option is supposed to be afforded to companies with less than $1 billion in annual revenue, suggesting that maybe Woodman’s prediction to Forbes that in 2013 GoPro would double its reported $512 million revenue from 2012 didn’t quite come to pass. But given that we don’t know when exactly GoPro put its papers in, there’s really no saying.

Regardless, whenever GoPro does pull back the blinds to its financial position, there's no sign it will be anything other than impressive. In the dozen years since Woodman first had the idea for a camera that surfers could affix to themselves to take action shots, he has taken a steady-as-she-grows approach that has been both safe and effective. The company was bootstrapped, with early investment from his mother and father. Woodman sold the early GoPros himself out of his van, went on TV shopping networks to promote it personally and focused on small independent retailers to build up a network. As he’s said widely, he sold $350,000 worth of cameras in the first year, which made the company profitable from the outset. By early 2007, that figure was in the low seven figures. The launch of GoPro’s Digital Hero 3 with a better camera and new video capability timed fortuitously with the YouTube revolution and from there things have ascended upwards at a steady clip.

In 2012, Woodman said GoPro sold 2.3 million cameras. Market research has pegged the company as having a 26 percent share of the total camcorder market. It dominates 90 percent of the adventure photography sector, a market that has grown itself out since the advent of GoPro while the rest of the camera market has cratered inwards due to the smartphone explosion. And where smartphones decimated Flipcam, camera quality issues and the inherent ridiculousness involved in strapping a phone to your motorcycle have left GoPro’s market untouched. As Woodman has said, smartphones have even done GoPro a favor by clearing out the rest of the traditional market and leaving more room for them.

Perhaps GoPro’s savviest move was turning all of its marketing focus on what its customer’s are doing with the camera. Its YouTube channel has 1.7 million subscribers and its content has been viewed 420 million times. GoPro’s Super Bowl ad came from all user shot images. Its partnerships with pro athletes have given it a groundswell of popular support. Last year it captured both Felix Baumgarter’s headline grabbing freefall from space and a firefighter resuscitating a kitten, both of which became big stories. It launched its own channel on Virgin America flights last year and announced a partnership with Xbox last week to run user videos. As a result, what you can do with a GoPro has been kept front and center, above more particular product specifications and benefits.

The company is bullish about its chances for growth. The current wearability craze creates opportunity for it to push its accessories and attachments to drive revenue. It has created an aspirational brand and can take a leaf out of Apple’s book, making a continual run of tweaks and improvements to bring new customers in and upsell to old ones.

There’s more good news than bad for GoPro as the SEC begins to review its filing. But there are always weak spots. If smartphones make improvements in mounting and durability, they could start eating into GoPro’s market share. A lot of GoPro’s sales to date have been first time buyers and GoPro has yet to become widely popular outside of the adventure market. Where its market saturation point sits is yet to be known.

GoPro enters into this new chapter with a popular product and enviable brand position. Whatever challenges lie ahead, its history and lack of formidable competition means you’d be foolish to bet against it.

[image via  plo0m on flickr]