The creator of what he calls "the world's most versatile camera," the GoPro, explains his lessons on bootstrapping a fast-growing company with adoring customers.
Little Hugo Woodman may have a bone to pick with his dad sometime down the road.
Nick Woodman, Hugo's father, didn't merely regale the audience at the Inc. 500 | 5000 conference with photos of his young son. He also presented a video of Hugo's birth, recorded (with minimum gore, thank goodness) on his GoPro wearable camera, the product of his hugely successful company, Woodman Labs.
The GoPro camera, a tiny, high-definition video camera that can be mounted on a hat, a car, a weather balloon, or anywhere else your fancy suggests, is designed for people who love what they do--and who want to share the experience of doing it with others.
"People use GoPros to capture the experiences they are passionate about," said Woodman.
The company has sold more than 800,000 cameras and grew 300% last year, helped in large part by loyal customers, who post a new GoPro tagged video to YouTube every minute.
Woodman was wearing one strapped to his chest while he spoke, "so I can show my sons, Hugo and Duke, what Dad did today," he said.
Woodman's thesis was that entrepreneurs are more likely to succeed when they follow their passions when starting a company. He certainly took his own advice. In his early 20s, repulsed by the prospect of working for someone else, Woodman gave himself eight years--until age 30--to try to become a successful entrepreneur. He wasted two of those years on a dot-com that died, so, at age 26, he found himself with no ideas and the clock ticking.
A surfing devotee, he decided to seek inspiration by taking his board on a tour of Australia and Indonesia, Before setting off he came up with the idea of a 35mm camera a surfer could strap to his wrist--something he envisioned exclusively for his own use. But as he mentally developed the idea on his travels, Woodman realized he had his next business. Serendipity struck again when on a ferry in Indonesia he met his future head of creative media.
The two returned to the United States and built a $3 million company. That seemed like success enough for Woodman, until he went chasing after another passion: race car driving. During one lesson, the track offered to mount a camera on his car for $100. Instead, Woodman used his GoPro and realized" "it could be the world's most versatile camera," he said. "Things happen when you are pursuing your passion."
Woodman's other advice to the audience: surround yourself with people you love (or at least like). That's easy for new CEOs, he pointed out: many are terrified of hiring people anyway.In the early days of GoPro, Woodman said: "I only hired people I was in college with, high school with, or was related to." (The company now has 300 employees.)
Those first seven people were as productive as 40, and were clearly having so much fun "that it built a halo around the brand GoPro where we are now a really fun, all-inviting, loving brand."
Woodman concluded with an insight, borrowed from the writer Anais Nin, that life shrinks or expands according to one's courage. Being brave is a huge competitive advantage, he said. "I want to live in a big world."
LEIGH BUCHANAN is an editor at large for Inc. magazine. A former editor at Harvard Business Review and founding editor of WebMaster magazine, she writes regular columns on leadership and workplace culture. @LeighEBuchanan