GoPro: the Apple of the outdoors?

It sometimes feels as though we are running out of niches for tech to exploit. One area that has always been ripe for exploration, though, is the action and excitement associated with outdoor activities. Given this, it’s no wonder video camera business GoPro – perhaps the flagship firm for open-air thrill-seekers – has attracted such a buzz since it announced that it was going public in February. GoPro is a fascinating company with an amazing grasp of what is needed to appeal to both public and corporate partners. As such, it is no surprise that founder Nick Woodman is now said to be a billionaire.

For a company that was founded in 2002, GoPro’s ascent has been astonishing. It has gone from scratch to outselling Sony devices at Best Buy stores in the US, something that happened for the first time in December. According to Forbes, the company’s revenues for the full year 2012 hit US$521m, and it expects to be up near US$1bn for 2013. What’s more impressive is that it has repeatedly seen off competition from firms like Kodak and Flip, which was wound up by Cisco in 2011. GoPro is now the undisputed leader in an extremely competitive category that sees new pretenders to the throne emerge all the time. Only time will tell what the emergence of Google Glass is going to do for the market, for instance.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of GoPro’s rise was that, aside from cash from Woodman’s parents, it never relied on injections of outside investment. This changed in 2011, when demands of scale led to Woodman taking US$88m in funding from firms including Riverwood Capital and Steamboat Ventures. Shortly afterwards, GoPro’s stockpile was reinforced by Foxconn’s acquisition of an 8.9% stake in the business for around US$200m. The sum valued GoPro at approximately US$2.25bn, and laid the foundations of the company’s route to an initial public offering. Foxconn CEO (and new GoPro board member) Terry Gou said: “there is a strong interest for innovative devices among Chinese consumers […] the market opportunity will be significant for GoPro’s products.” This highlights the potential still out there for a company with the ambition and scope of GoPro!

However, I have to say that my favourite part of the GoPro universe is the intelligence of its marketing. It does a great job of combining two strands at once: big-ticket endorsement deals with extreme sports stars like Kelly Slater and Shaun White, and a real commitment to the average person looking to have fun and make videos. A great example of this is the firm’s recent #GoProLove social campaign for Valentine’s Day, which saw winners taking pictures of romantic moments and receiving GoPros as prizes. It was a great piece of marketing, and reflects how savvy GoPro is in terms of community building and online engagement.

This positive story, which will take its next step with the upcoming IPO, has led me to think that GoPro can do for its market niche something similar to what Apple has done in the wider field of consumer electronics. Both companies have devoted followings, both boast high-end tech at relatively affordable prices, and both have a small, concentrated core product range topped up with winning accessories and extras. The parallels are extremely interesting, and I don’t think we’ll have long to wait before we see what GoPro does next in its plans for expansion!

GoPro is certainly one of my top tech companies out there at the moment; can you think of any other similar firms that are redefining their niche with such success? Let me know at, and have a fantastic weekend.