GoPro took the world by storm with its state-of-the-art line of action cameras. However, as many widely beloved brands try (and fail) to match GoPro’s popularity, it can be hard to pinpoint the quality or feature that sets their products so far apart from the competition. What exactly did GoPro do over the years that allowed them to amass such an enormous following?
Here are 9 reasons why GoPros are so popular:
- GoPros are small, compact, and portable.
- You can mount a GoPro on just about anything.
- GoPros offer great picture quality.
- GoPros were the first practical POV cameras.
- GoPros are excellent for underwater videography.
- GoPros are ideal for action sports.
- GoPro has incredible branding.
- YouTube and Social Media shares made GoPro explode.
- GoPro used memorable and understandable model names.
In this article, we’ll take a more in-depth look at each of these qualities to help you better understand why GoPro got so popular. Following that, we’ve also put together a little history lesson about how GoPro started out as a business venture and got to where it is right now.
Table of Contents
1. GoPros Are Small, Compact, and Portable
One of the biggest reasons why GoPro has been able to generate this much craze is its exceptionally convenient size and shape. A GoPro camera is much smaller than its standard point-and-shoot counterpart.
The small footprint means it’s very portable. You can easily put it inside your pocket or even fit it inside the most cramped suitcase.
Moreover, due to its small size, the equipment is incredibly lightweight. You can literally walk around all day long with a GoPro attached to your helmet or have one hanging with a neckband, and you’ll never feel like you’ve been carrying around recording equipment.
It’s worth mentioning that modern iterations of GoPros have gotten marginally larger.
Before GoPro HERO 4 (available on Amazon.com) was released, their cameras were exponentially smaller. However, with each successive iteration, they’ve gotten marginally larger as they started to include a front and back display. That said, it’s still incredibly small and portable.
The more recent GoPros provide a remarkably small footprint, especially considering they come equipped with a touch-screen display on the back that doubles as a viewfinder and a tool for managing/tweaking the various camera settings. You also get a smaller screen on the front to quickly access important settings and help you take those perfect selfies.
2. You Can Mount a GoPro on Just About Anything
Chances are, as long as you’ve got the right mounting equipment, you’ll never have to carry a GoPro.
GoPros usually come with a couple of mounting accessories in the box. However, if that doesn’t suffice, there are plenty of third-party products you can try as well.
The main advantage of GoPro’s versatile mounting gear comes when you couple these features with the device’s practical size. You can literally attach a GoPro on your wrist, helmet, shoulder, and legs without ever feeling like it’s weighing you down.
You can also find special mounting equipment for GoPro, which you can use to mount the device to cars, mountain bikes, surfboards, skateboards, etc.
As you can imagine, this allows you to capture epic immersive videos to wow your viewers.
To give you a glimpse of what’s possible, here’s an 8-min YouTube video showcasing an FAA-approved GoPro mount that you can use to legally attach the camera to the wings of an airplane:
3. GoPros Offer Great Video Quality
You can’t solely sell a camera based on its size and portability; you also need to make sure that it’s qualitative at what it’s primarily supposed to do: taking pictures and videos. Luckily, the GoPro always offers excellent picture quality for its price.
The original GoPro used 35mm film, and the quality was decent enough for its price tag.
Soon after, the company released a digital edition that could take VGA still images and 240p video recording – not too shabby considering this was back in 2007.
It was 2010 when GoPro finally came out with an HD camera – GoPro HD HERO with a 5MP shooter that could record videos in 1080p @30fps or 720p @60fps.
The image quality only started to improve with subsequent iterations of GoPro HERO cameras, and currently, the quality is even comparable to much pricier and bulkier DSLR cameras.
Here’s a cool 3-min YouTube video comparing GoPros to DSLRs to give you an idea of the difference in video quality:
4. GoPros Were the First Practical POV Cameras
GoPros might not be the first POV (Point of View) camera. Still, they were the first “practical” POV cameras (or action cameras), giving them the first-mover advantage, which contributed to their unparalleled success.
You see, before GoPros, people had two options:
- Pick a small camera for portability but sacrifice video/picture quality.
- Pick a bulkier camera that could shoot better videos, but struggle to carry it around with you.
Then, GoPro came into the picture, offering a practical POV camera with no caveats. It was small and portable but offered decent picture quality for the money.
This made GoPros the go-to pick for anyone looking to take POV shots.
Therefore, GoPro found a market gap, addressed the users’ problems, and developed an effective, innovative solution before anyone else. All of this heavily contributed to its massive growth in popularity.
5. GoPros Are Excellent for Underwater Videography
Since the original GoPro, all cameras in the lineup have offered some level of water protection, making them eligible for surfers and scuba divers.
Nick Woodman, the inventor, and founder of GoPro is a surfing enthusiast. The idea for the camera came to his mind to help surfers like him capture breathtaking footage as they’re riding the waves.
Therefore, waterproof cameras were always on top of his priority list.
This marketing angle made GoPro immensely popular amongst surfers and divers.
GoPro is still actively working to make its cameras better for underwater photography. One of their latest models – the GoPro 10, comes with a Hydrophobic lens that limits water from sticking to the camera lens. This allows users to shoot much higher-quality videos transitioning in and out of the water.
Here’s a 6-min YouTube video going over how well the hydrophobic lens on the GoPro HERO 10 works:
6. GoPros Are Ideal for Action Sports
GoPros are small & portable, offer excellent video quality, can be mounted on practically anything, and they’re waterproof. On top of that, the camera is ruggedized and extremely durable. It can easily brush off the occasional thud, smack, or even drops from significant heights.
Here’s a fascinating 8-min YouTube video testing the durability of a GoPro camera:
When you combine all of these factors, you start to realize that GoPros are the perfect companion for action sports enthusiasts.
The equipment is exceptionally easy to strap onto your hands, feet, or helmet, and it’s light enough not to bother you as you move. The video quality is good and consistent, so you’ll always know that you’re capturing good footage, which allows you to concentrate on the sport.
And since it’s waterproof and highly durable, you won’t need to constantly worry about your camera getting damaged – something which can’t be said about regular DSLRs, point-and-shoot cameras, or even smartphones.
7. GoPro Has Incredible Branding
GoPro is an excellent product, and its popularity is justified. However, not all excellent products get their deserved accolades. This is where proper branding comes into the picture.
Not only did GoPro deliver a qualitative, one-of-a-kind product to an audience in need, but the product was also very well marketed from the get-go, which helped it tremendously in raising public awareness and popularity.
First comes the name. GoPro is short, memorable, and sounds cool. It also clearly communicates to the users what their product line is about – “going professional.”
Moreover, GoPro had a concrete idea of its target audience and their pain points since Nick Woodman, the founder of GoPro, is himself a part of that target audience. This helped GoPro easily connect with its customers, again lending to its massive growth in success and popularity.
8. YouTube and Social Media Shares Made GoPro Explode
GoPro was founded in 2002, as the internet and social media started to take off. The company efficiently took advantage of this, rode the social media wave, and exploded in popularity.
Everybody who owned a GoPro shared the footage they captured using the camera on the internet. This allowed hundreds and thousands of people from all over the world not only to enjoy that person’s achievements but also be amazed by the recording equipment they used.
This made a significant number of people curious about GoPros, which earned the company free marketing.
Sure, some people might say that this was a happy accident; however, this couldn’t be further from the truth. The company was quick to realize the potential of social media and soon reached out to professional athletes, adventurers, and even artists offering sponsorship and free promotion.
They also created the GoPro Awards, where you can submit your footage to get featured and even earn some cash. This further helped add fire to the GoPro craze and increase its popularity.
You can also read this Yotpo case study to learn more about GoPro’s journey in building a strong online community.
9. GoPro Used Memorable and Understandable Model Names
Names that are easy to remember and understand help with word of mouth promotion, leading to better public awareness.
Most camera brands have complicated names for their products. Without calling out any specific companies, one camera might be called PX100-A, while another model might be called PX100-G, or something similar.
Now sure, more technical and experienced users might know which model provides what features. However, how does a common user figure out which model to get? Which model is better? Which is the latest?
Apple does a great job at this. You have the iPhone 1, iPhone 2, and so on. Even though you might have some sub-categories like the SE, 5S, 5C, XR, etc., there’s still enough order and organization for the average customer to better understand what they’re getting.
GoPro also follows suit with this naming structure.
You have the GoPro HERO 7, HERO 8, HERO 9, etc. This lets users know which model came after the other. This also makes the models easily memorable, further promoting discussions around them, again leading to more awareness and thus popularity.
A Brief History of GoPro and Where It Is Today
Now that you have a better idea of the many reasons behind GoPro’s popularity let’s quickly discuss how it became so popular. In the following sections, we’ll give you a brief rundown of the brand’s history.
GoPro’s Humble Beginning
In 2002, Nick Woodman went on a surfing trip to Australia and Indonesia. He tried to find a camera that would help him capture fascinating pictures and video footage of him riding the waves. However, unfortunately, no such products existed on the market.
Therefore, he brainstormed and came up with a strap that would attach a regular camera to his wrist. The strap worked insanely well, so much so that it gave Nick a lightbulb moment.
Why not create a mountable camera specifically designed for capturing POV images and videos? And thus, GoPro was born – well, at least the idea did.
Nick borrowed $230,000 from his parents to fuel his vision. Then, after building and testing a few prototypes, Nick released his first camera to the public in 2004 – the GoPro 35mm HERO, which used film.
In case you’re interested, here’s a quick 7-min YouTube video going over the first GoPro camera:
Soon after, in 2006, the company released its first digital camera – the GoPro Digital HERO. It allowed users to record up to 10 seconds of video footage and helped the company make $800,000 in revenue.
During this period, GoPro started to make several deals and tie-ups with various sports companies. This helped GoPro gain more exposure and increase its sales.
By the 2010s, GoPro started making over $100 million in annual revenue. It was no longer a mere “successful startup” but rather a real multi-million dollar company that stirred up a lot of hype among its user base as well as on Wall Street.
The camera company started to garner the attention of major corporations, one of the biggest being Foxconn. They made a private investment of $200 million for 8.88% of the company back in 2012, valuing GoPro at $2.25 billion.
GoPro Went Public
In 2014, GoPro launched its IPO (Initial Public Offering) as the company decided to go public.
During the IPO, they generated a total value of $427.2 million by selling 17.8 million shares. At this price, the company had a valuation of $2.95 billion.
Shortly after, GoPro shares skyrocketed, and the company valuation peaked at around $10 billion. However, this glory was short-lived, and their prices have seen a steady decline over the years.
GoPro’s decision to have the company go public was made in an effort to generate enough funds and awareness to help them transition into a media company. Unfortunately, this decision and shift in attention resulted in GoPro’s gradual downfall.
How did GoPro go from being one of the most valued enterprises to becoming just another camera company? Don’t get me wrong – GoPro is still extremely popular! However, it isn’t as big as it used to be.
For example, GoPro shares peaked at $87 in September 2014, but since then, it’s been mostly downhill. Since 2016, GoPro mostly traded below $20 per share, and in 2018 it dropped below $10 per share.
Similarly, GoPro sales figures also dropped significantly. In 2015, the company was at its peak as it sold over 6.58 million units. Since then, the figures have steadily declined, and in 2020, the numbers dropped to 2.8 million units.
So what’s the reason behind GoPro’s gradual demise?
Well, there’s no singular event. On the contrary, a number of missteps and bad decisions came together to haunt GoPro.
Here’s a quick look at the main reasons leading to GoPro’s downfall:
- GoPro hired too many employees.
- GoPro tried to be what they are not.
- GoPro lost focus on their core products.
Let’s briefly expand on each of these reasons.
GoPro Hired Too Many Employees
Following the massive success of the IPO, GoPro went into a hiring frenzy, bumping up its employee count from 700 to 1600 in a matter of months. This step was taken to ensure enough people and enough divisions were in place to help GoPro expand its business. However, in hindsight, all this amounted to an unforeseen increase in operational costs.
The budget for marketing campaigns, photoshoots, and other company operations skyrocketed. According to GoPro’s creative director Brad Schmidt, the company’s media division saw a 10-fold increase in spending.
Within one year of going public, in 2015, GoPro was burning close to $400 million annually. This didn’t bode well with many of GoPro’s investors.
Furthermore, the areas GoPro tried to expand on weren’t prosperous, meaning all these costs didn’t bring up any returns.
GoPro soon realized they weren’t a massive conglomerate and started laying off employees and reconnecting with its core and humble self. However, firing employees is never a good process to have broadcast in the news and social media, and it did result in GoPro facing some backlash.
GoPro Tried To Be What They Are Not
GoPro became popular as a camera company catering to action sports enthusiasts. However, at its height of success and popularity, GoPro decided to expand and diverge away from its niche market.
GoPro planned to become a media company. The company wanted to launch a streaming platform similar to Netflix and produce its own shows, which requires a hefty investment. However, soon after, Nick felt that he wasn’t passionate enough about the project. Therefore, following some financial trouble, he decided to pull the plug.
Still, millions if not billions of dollars were caught up in the project, and due to its eventual cancellation, all of it went down the drain, as GoPro had to take a massive financial hit.
A similar incident happened in 2016. GoPro released Karma, a camera-mounted drone for aerial photography. However, GoPro wasn’t a drone company, and Karma had many bugs and issues, the biggest of which was the drone losing power mid-flight and falling to the ground.
That said, GoPro did start the Karma recall and refund program, which saved it from user backlash, but cost them a lot of money. Moreover, many customers were already disappointed with what happened, and the image of GoPro took a hit.
GoPro Lost Focus on Their Core Products
While focusing on the future, GoPro lost touch with the present. As a result, their core product lines started to suffer, which annoyed their established and loyal user base.
One of the most notable examples is what happened with the GoPro HERO 5 Black.
Many customers started complaining that the camera leaked underwater, leading to water damage. Upon investigation, it was discovered that there was an issue in the product line.
As a result, they had to fix the production issue, meaning that further manufacturing of the model had halted, and the company couldn’t achieve its production goal for that year.
Furthermore while focusing on other ventures, innovation with their GoPro cameras took a back seat. This allowed other camera companies to swarm into the lucrative action camera market. In a matter of months, GoPro had gone from being the de facto action camera to “another option” worth considering.
GoPro Is Making a Comeback
Despite all the hardship, GoPro didn’t call quits. They made some bad calls, but they owned up to them, rectified them to the best of their abilities, and most importantly, learned from them.
In 2021, Nick Woodman appeared in several interviews talking about what he believes are the reasons behind GoPro’s fall and how they are planning to grow in the future.
Here’s a 7-min YouTube video of Nick Woodman’s interview with Today:
Long story short, Nick wants the company to go back to its roots. They’re planning on further innovating and improving action cameras while releasing better hardware and software so that their customers, the adventurers, can get a better user experience.
GoPro stock prices have also considerably improved since hitting rock bottom. Sure, they’re still far below their peak, but they’re doing far better compared to a few years ago.
Here’s an excellent detailed read going over the future of GoPro from an investor’s point of view.