A company that started out making camera wrist straps ends up making the world’s best adventure sports cameras. Today GoPro is the camera of choice for extreme action photography. Their light-weight, rugged, high-def cameras are often found in the most hard-to-reach places, from ocean sea beds to the edge of the earth and everything in between.
But this isn’t a post on how great GoPro’s cameras are (which they are!). Nor is it the story of how Nick Woodman, GoPro’s founder took the company from his VW van to competing with the likes of Sony and Nikon. Rather it’s a piece on the lessons that GoPro teaches anyone who is interested in building a better product.
Be passionate and look for inspiration
Surfing, and not photography, was Nick Woodman’s first love. While travelling across Indonesia and Australia he was frustrated that there weren’t any options for amateur photographers to capture first-person videos, without spending on expensive camera equipment. That was the genesis of GoPro — inviting amateur photographers to shoot adventure sports just like professionals.
It is a cliche to tell entrepreneurs to follow their passions. But what does that really mean? Nick Woodman really wanted to capture his surfing adventures, and wanted to give others the same option. He could understand his customers in a way that the traditional camera companies couldn’t. And that’s what inspired him to build a build a better camera.
GoPro is a classic case of overnight success, but in its case the night was over [10 years](http://www.inc.com/maeghan-ouimet/nick-woodman-gopro-10-years-bootstrapping-overnight-success.html) long. It’s much the same with most companies you read about. The slew of news articles make it feel like they appeared out of thin air, but chances are, the team was slogging in the background, understanding the use-case, ironing out the product and slowly but surely building a customer base.
Accept the fact that you won’t be able to foresee every single customer problem on day one. Start with what you understand and solve it as you go. But be humble, listen to feedback, customer complaints and have the fortitude to accept failures and churn. Also iterate your product till it achieves a market fit.
Spot the right wave
Until YouTube and dropping bandwidth costs made it almost free to upload cat antics, amateur sports videos had a niche audience. GoPro was well positioned to ride the growth of video streaming in the mid-late 2000s.
Try to predict the wave, be it technology, design patterns or even industries and then ride the right one. In our case, Compile started off as a simple auto document aggregation system, iterated a couple of times and found that customers had a real need for trigger-based lead sources. And that’s our core product today.
Build generic but bend for the customer
GoPros are used across a wide range of industries, from adventure sports to documenting surgeries **graphic content in link** to military combat. The device used across all these use-cases is the **same**. And yet, there are enough small variations and add-ons that make it feel like a customized product.
For instance, as an amateur photographer, I like GoPro for the simple reason that they offer different harnesses, ranging from wrist straps to helmet holders to extension poles. It may seem like a small thing, but it’s the little details that make the difference and build a loyal customer base.
Be frugal. Be profitable
GoPro bootstrapped by using very small capital from the founder’s family and then grew without raising external capital. This helped them dictate their own path and didn’t constrain their need to experiment. This is not to say that raising capital prevents you from building great products. But the independence and mindset fostered by a self-financed company is very different, and often, hard to replicate.
It is tough talking about GoPro without showing one in action. Enjoy!