Nick Woodman: “We invented the selfie”

The 43-year-old founder of GoPro on the importance of deadlines, his life long love of surfing and the company's 3 hour lunch breaks

Nick Woodman first stumbled upon the idea for GoPro on a trip to Bali in 2002. The entrepreneur — an avid surfer, naturally — thought it might be fun to record his antics out on the waves with a waterproof camera, strapped primitively to his wrist. It turns out he was right — very right. The rest, as they say, is history.

In the years since, adrenaline junkies, performers and sports stars the world over have used these incredibly smart and (almost) indestructible cameras to record anything they set their minds to. Here, the man behind the brand tells us why it’s crucial to put a deadline on success; the lessons he learnt from two failed business start-ups; and why it’s good to feel a little bit scared once in a while.

GoPro stands for something much more than technology — it’s an aspirational way of life. Ours is a very different kind of company, since it is arguably the first lifestyle tech brand. We allow people to capture brilliant, high-quality action images and videos of themselves pursuing their passions — enabling, really for the first time, the world to see itself doing what it loves to do.

My initial aspirations for GoPro were pretty humble – I just wanted it to be successful in the surf industry. I didn’t realise how small the industry was at the time! GoPro is quite a bit older than people imagine, I started it in 2002 with the first project happening in 2004. I then proceeded to hire a family member or two for the next few years until eventually we launched our first HD GoPro in the fall of 2009.

I don’t want everyone in my office sat at their desks or in meetings every day. For three hours in the middle of the day, we have a time that we call ‘Live It’ where we encourage people to leave the office and go and pursue an interest with their colleagues, whether it’s surfing, mountain biking, playing in a band. We ask that they do something of interest to them and use their GoPro to capture the experience.

My first business idea was to sell consumer electronics for a $2 mark-up. I was a one-man band and sold a camera and a laptop before I realised that it was going to be too much for me to take on. My second business was funbug.com, an online games company, which became the second most addictive games website at one point. The problem was that we didn’t actually know how to make money! Finally, on my third attempt I got it right with GoPro — which started with my passion for surfing and photography. Lo and behold, it turned into my best idea.

The first time we ever heard the term ‘selfie’ was actually referring to a GoPro. It was a derogatory term at first. There was a period when there were questions raised about turning the camera around for self-capture — and whether that was just a bit too much self-promotion. Over time, I think what the GoPro community was sharing became so entertaining and awesome that it turned into a positive.

So much of being an entrepreneur is being doggedly persistent and incredibly lucky — I was both. To young entrepreneurs thinking of making the move, I would say that it is going to be harder than you think, but if you’re still up for it, have an understanding  of all the challenges ahead and are willing to commit to it 1,000 per cent, then at that point of commitment you will already have an advantage over everyone else.

I was 26 when I had my idea for GoPro, so that meant four years left to succeed as an entrepreneur. When I was 22 I gave myself until the age of 30 to be successful as an entrepreneur, because I figured if it hadn’t worked out by then, I should probably get a real job, get married and have kids. I think that the commitment was more important than the deadline.

We’ve had fabulous growth years and then very challenging years, and it’s a bit like a battle. The product idea and the building of the brand was the easy part. The scaling of it has been really challenging, and the hardest part of business is the people. It’s taught me the importance of culture and teamwork and compatibility among the team — and getting that right is amazing. When you get it wrong, it’s astonishing just how much time and energy you can spend on staffing issues. Now, we are the most tight-knit we’ve ever been.

I realised that I would never be anything extraordinary, unless I took extraordinary steps. Anybody who thinks it’s easy to be successful is kidding themselves. There are a lot of dark days where you think “maybe everybody’s right and I’m crazy and foolish to be doing this.” It takes work, but any entrepreneur will tell you that one day you will wake up successful (however that looks for you) and thank yourself for seeing it through.

The GoPro HERO 7 Black is now available in Dusk White.

This interview originally appeared in our March issue, click here to subscribe and get your copy now…

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