“From ordinary to extraordinary, GoPro.”

Said CEO Nick Woodman from the stage of the long-awaited Karma launch event in Squaw Valley CA.
In an incredibly tight 30 minutes, Nick Woodman introduced two cameras, a bunch of software, and a drone while moving seamlessly between the stage and screen. Yeah. No doubt his trademark “woots” were used to cue the videos. Though I can do without the grimaces.
Here’s the thing. Like a lot of people, I thought Karma was a bust – yuck what a dumb name. (And no he never explained it.) The teasers were to be kind, kind of opaque. They defied custom and expectations. Perhaps that should have been the first of several clues. Because I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that the GoPro team knows a lot more about its customers than I do. And having drunk the Kool-Aid, I am certain that they know exactly what their brand is about.
Let’s be honest. This started out to be a snark piece. Then I decided on the deconstruction of a launch. But you know what, read that somewhere else. What is here in this video is a smart company with a very personal, passionate go for broke strategy. Because hey, going into Q4 things are pretty much that terrible at GPRO.
It’s hard to remember that GoPro didn’t IPO until 2014. And here is something I found on Wikipedia that blew my mind – and hasn’t been mentioned in a single review (which is I hope why you read Dronin’ On):

In April 2014, GoPro was listed by Adweek as one of the “Top 10 Best Brand Channels on YouTube” based on a combination of views, shares, comments and overall engagement. Content is uploaded daily, an additional source of revenue for the company.

As part of its transformation to a media company in 2014, GoPro created additional channels with GoPro content on YouTube, Virgin America and Xbox Live. This was extended to the PlayStation Network in 2015.

One more thing. Those of you who know my story, know that my agency worked with Apple in the early ’80s. Now I am not for one second going to argue that GoPro is as significant as the Apple // or the Macintosh. Though there can be no argument that GoPro revolutionized Nick’s chosen corner of the world.
But in all of my years, I have never seen anyone but Steve handle a stage better or have a surer sense of vision or greater passion. Nick Woodman has a long way to go (spare me the hating please), but I guarantee you that if you take the 30 minutes to watch this video you will see that he and his team studied long and hard to get
this right.
Will it work – we’ll see. But I think it’s smart and I wanted to share that with you. So how did they wow me?
Step One of their strategy is to “Dance with the one that brung ya.”

They are selling to the converted. The installed base.

What a good idea. What a smart thing to do.
  • Why take on DJI when there already are 20 million+ GoPro customers?
  • Who cares about drones when you can be part of people’s lives?
  • Why zig when you can zag around the whole drone industry?
More than one observer has suggested that this was more of a camera launch than a drone launch, and after doing a bit of research, they weren’t wrong. GoPro owns ~45-50% of the action camera market which translated into $1.6B in revenue for
FY 2015.
Step Two reminds me of the old wisdom, “People don’t buy a drill, they buy the hole that the drill makes.”

They are not selling a drone. They are selling a lifestyle system.

The detachable stabilizer, the Karma grip, the ring that connects the grip to the entire existing line of camera mounts (some 28 SKUs) are all huge value adds. Especially if you’ve already invested. Especially for the price – $799. Hello? $1,099 with the new camera.
Many of these customers are much more concerned about having a good time than they are about having the coolest drone. Karma is not only all they need – it’s all they want. They can throw it on their back and go. That’s what they call a consumer insight. Steve liked to say that Apple’s customers relied on them to know what
they needed…
product photo of GoPro Hero 5
GoPro Hero 5 Black
Step Three of their strategy is that they launched what looks to be two very cool cameras. GoPro has spent 14 years with their customers beating the crap out of their stuff while they revolutionized – and democratized – photography and videography.
So a waterproof, 4K camera with voice control in seven languages, a simple touch screen interface, internal image stabilization and three microphones in a small package for $399, and the even smaller Session for $299 “that’s meant to be dropped” is probably exactly what their market wants. (The Session 4 was a bust.)

Both cameras automatically upload to your Cloud account when you charge them.

Remember the story about Steve drawing the CD software for the engineer. You just drag it on and it works… Better yet, while I can’t swear to it, GoPro appears to have finally cured – or at least substantially reduced – “guppy vision,” the barrel distortion that ruined so many drone shots and required extensive post-production to take out. To be absolutely clear and consistent, Steve would never, ever have shipped anything that made guppy vision – look at the iPhone camera.
There is a big clue here, image stabilization, and you see it again in the detachable stabilizer that attaches to the Karma grip which provides a complete set of camera controls – and mates to the rest of the GoPro line of mounts – meaning everything is now stabilized. (It’s not clear what the stabilizer does versus the internal camera stabilizer or how they work together, if in fact they do.)

GoPro is all about smooth. “It makes it more dreamlike and it makes it beautiful.”

This is impressive footage from what is a small, assumedly reasonably bullet proof package. The real point seems to be how good it is off the drone… Nick ran a clip of the rig mounted on a mountain bike “hammering down a single track” and it looked great. Especially when you remember that the object of the exercise is to share an awesome ride, not to deliver commercial footage. I suppose this is a good place to say that Karma does not have a “follow me” function which would of course, be another way to share the ride.
Finally, GoPro is a company with a war chest that has allowed them (and this too was a recent fail) to make it easy for people to take their images and tell stories. The Capture app pairs the camera to a phone so the camera can work as a viewfinder for the diminutive Session 5 – a little counterintuitive since the pitch is “take your GoPro where you wouldn’t take your phone”…  I suspect the same technology enables Passenger which lets your buddy watch while you fly.
The Quik app syncs your shots to music, lets you add transitions, effects and type, then does the math to deliver a ready to share video cut to the length you choose. And you can do it on your phone, anywhere, in a few minutes.

“This is what we’ve been trying to do for 14 years. It’s finally easy.”

By adding post-production software, GoPro is creating a seamless user experience that makes the camera more useful. Very Steve like to understand that the real opportunity is to orchestrate every aspect of the user experience. No word about API’s or inviting in other developers, or a vision of a Karma app store.
OK. You know that it’s not like me to be this nice. You know what they missed? Safety. They spent one-half of one sentence on safety when they talked about the simulator built into the controller. This is a brand new group of fliers – it would have been a fine time to plug registration. Oh well, no one else does either…
There is one other thing that for GoPro should be easy. They have a very mature retail channel. Target, Walmart, Best Buy, REI. Check. 100+ countries. Check. If they can build in the quantities they need to a high level of quality, they just might have a very merry Christmas. And turn this thing around. Woot.