GoPro, the tiny camera beloved by surfers, skateboarders, cyclists, divers and other action enthusiasts, is inviting its fans to participate in its success -- as investors.
The company -- which makes the No. 1 best-selling video camera worldwide, according to market research firm IDC -- is due to sell shares to the public for the first time this week. It is expected to raise $400 million by selling 17.8 million shares between $21 and $24 a share. The stock is to trade under the symbol GPRO.
The company offers just one camera design -- the tiny, wearable Hero, which attaches to surfboards, bike helmets and the like for an ultra-wide-angle view of the world. The Hero camera ranges from $199 to $399 and is a popular fixture at extreme sporting events and sports stores.
Jeff Glass, owner of the Rider Shack Surf and Skate shop in Los Angeles, believes GoPro has a long shelf life, at least at his store. He doesn't even bother stocking alternative action cameras from Sony, Garmin, iON and Contour, because his customers don't ask for them.
"They're very specific about wanting the GoPro," he says.
GoPro's competitors undersell GoPro with less-expensive cameras. But GoPro dominates, with a 30.4% market share in total video camera sales and 4.1 million units sold in 2013, compared with 20.8% for No. 2 Sony, according to researcher IDC. Put GoPro and Sony head to head in the "action" camera category, and GoPro has 47.5% market share to No. 2 Sony's 6.5%.
The company was founded by Nick Woodman, a surfer who wanted to capture some of the dynamic scenery he saw in the ocean, without ruining cameras. The idea goes back to the film days -- the first GoPro was an analog wrist accessory for a one-time use film camera in 2002. Digital video, in 10-second bursts, was added in 2006. And in 2009, high-definition made its debut in the first Hero camera.
The $399 Hero 3+, the latest model, now can shoot 4K video footage, with a resolution four times that of high-definition 1080p video.
Woodman built the company on word of mouth, he told USA TODAY in a 2011 profile.
"Our customers are growing the company for us," he said. "They like to share their videos, and it's impossible to share without someone saying, 'How did you do that?' The answer: GoPro."
The heavily viewed GoPro channel on YouTube is inhabited mostly by videos shot by GoPro users. Those same videos are now shown on Virgin America flights on a self-contained in-flight TV channel.
The company also spends millions on TV ads. And if you've been to any sporting goods, surf shop or electronic retailer, you likely can't miss the huge GoPro display offering cameras and accessories -- everything from mounts for helmets, bike handles and surfboards to straps to wear the GoPro cameras on your head and chest.
When we first met Woodman, he took USA TODAY for a ride in a restored 1960s-era Ford race car, and had 10 GoPros attached to it for the ultimate in multiple points of view. Back then, GoPro had 1 million fans on Facebook and 63 million views of its YouTube channel. It now has 7.4 million fans on Facebook and 530 million total views on YouTube.
What GoPro doesn't have right now is rising sales. In its IPO filing, the company said revenue fell -- to $236 million in the first quarter of 2014 compared with $255 million in the year-ago quarter.
However IDC analyst Chris Chute says the entire consumer electronics category had lower sales in 2013, and he's not worried. "We'll see positive growth return," he says.
He expects a new GoPro model in the fall, which he thinks will interact with wearable fitness gadgets, giving users more information about their sporting activities and how they fared.
Most photos and videos are now captured on smartphones, not cameras, but shop owner Glass doesn't think GoPro will be replaced in that arena. Very few smartphones are waterproof, he says, and the ones that are won't go as far underwater, or clip easily onto a surfboard.
But will the GoPro go the way of pocket video recorder Flip, which dominated video sales only to fizzle a few years ago?
Chute thinks GoPro can stay around, because it serves a niche (action cams) and is aligned with the wearable tech trend. "You can capture first-person video, without putting your iPhone at risk," he says.
Jefferson Graham, USA TODAY