GoPro CEO opens up about Snapchat Spectacles and rampant copying

GoPro CEO Nick Woodman drifting on a trike at the 2017 Mountain Games.
Image: raymond wong/mashable

When Snapchat Spectacles launched last year, the reaction from people who bought and used it was: Oh shit, GoPro is so dead.

And I’m not gonna lie, I kinda felt the same, even though I really like GoPro’s action cameras, and have owned too many to remember over the years.

That GoPro is screwed and should sell itself (perhaps, even to a Snap, Inc.) is a tired and repetitive story you hear every quarter during the company’s earnings calls.

But those who are bearish on GoPro’s future don’t understand the company. They’re misguided by focusing on what GoPro was as opposed to what it is today. GoPro isn’t just a hardware company selling action cameras anymore, it’s a lifestyle brand and movement intensely focused on helping creators tell better stories.

It’s why the company’s invested heavily in apps and machine learning to help make it easier for its users to effortlessly create epic videos to share online.

As we rode our bikes on a winding scenic trail at the Mountain Games in Vail, Colorado, I picked CEO Nick Woodman’s brain on Spectacles, and Snapchat and Instagram Stories products GoPro is now competing head-on with in the smartphone age.

GoPro’s winding path

Nick and I are now bike buddies. Best bike buddies ever.

Image: raymond wong/mashable

Those who know Woodman will tell you he’s one of the most candid tech CEO’s you’ll ever meet. More bro than suit, Woodman is, honestly, an adult kid. I mean, the dude was cool with goofing off with Instagram Stories’ puppy face lens, and he started our bike convo with “Did you blow minds?” referring to the world’s first public hands-on of the upcoming GoPro Fusion 360-degree consumer camera I did on Facebook Live (see that video here!) earlier in the day.

He’s extremely passionate about what GoPro represents and isn’t afraid to admit the company’s made mistakes, like failing to connect GoPros with smartphones and online video platforms sooner.

Obviously, GoPro’s CEO is going to toot the merits of its action cameras and software the company’s launching a new GoPro app later this summer with a feature called “QuikStories” that’ll automatically download and save GoPro footage to your phone and then automatically create an edited video for you but Woodman isn’t worried about the competition. In fact, he thinks it’s great.

While Spectacles took the U.S. by storm last year (that’s if you could get to one of Snap’s silly SnapBot vending machines to buy a pair), they haven’t been quite the big runaway success everyone was hoping for (at least they aren’t yet).

It’s probably too soon to declare them a fad, though. Snap revealed it only sold 60,000 pairs of Spectacles during Q1 of 2017. But that’s also with the caveat that they weren’t available for online purchase until February. Moreover, that’s just U.S. sales. The company just started selling them in Europe. Who knows what interest will be like once they’re sold worldwide.

In comparison, GoPro says it shipped 738,000 camera units in the $399+ category worldwide in the same quarter. Spectacles, on the other hand, also sell for way less at $130.

What would a pair of GoPro camera glasses look like? Probably not too different from Spectacles.

With that data in mind, it wasn’t surprising to hear Woodman sorta shrug off Spectacles.

“I think that its cool that there are other companies acknowledging that a smartphone is awesome for its intended use case but there are times when its not very good and it takes you out of the experience,” Woodman said. “Look, its not easy being the only brand thats beating the drum that its cool, fun, and rewarding to share stories [from a separate camera to an app service] like this. And so to have a brand with as much reach as Snapchat acknowledge that is awesome.”

Woodman dodged on whether GoPro’s working on its own camera glasses wearable (I’m fairly sure they are or at least looking into them) but he didn’t rule them out as an impossibility.

That said, what would a pair of GoPro camera glasses look like? Probably not too different from Spectacles.

Never fear the copycats

While talking about the rampant copying of both hardware and software in the tech world, Woodman seemed unfazed and even suggested it’s just the way things are. He, of all people, knows all about copycat products. Just look at the dozens of action cameras that ripped off his GoPro Heroes. Which is why he’s now more focused than ever to make GoPro’s software (apps for mobile and desktop) essential to the the GoPro camera experience something that copycat cameras aren’t or can’t copy as easily.

“A great design is a great design. Were entering an age of likeness call it copycatting of proven ideas is accepted rather than derided just because it allows consumers to have what they want.”

His perspective on knockoff products applies to both hardware and software. On hardware, he’s well aware that there’s only so much you can do with design, and used the Google Pixel as an example of copycatting where customers don’t seem to care. Sure, it looks just like an iPhone (from the front), but if that’s what people want, borrowing ideas isn’t the worst offense.

“Now its just an arms race a high-paced arms race we dont have time to figure something else out, and thats working, and our customers love it, do it,” Woodman said regarding companies copying each other. “Theres a trend thats been established thats its okay to copy ideas from the leading brands in the world and were entering this period where its now not derided when someone does it.”

Image: bob al-greene/mashable

Woodman’s not saying GoPro will rip off Spectacles, but he’s not saying it’d be a big no-no if they did.

“Its not cheap, the risks are massive when you get it wrong. Thats another thing: Do we also run the risk in that age of missing out on some innovation? Because if companies play it safer and just go with what works, does that stifle some of the truly inventive ideas that get pushed down because, well, I dont know if we can take that risk?”

The GoPro story becomes GoPro ‘stories’

Similarly, Woodman doesn’t seem offended that Instagram has ripped all of Snapchat off. He’s very much of the “Good artists copy; great artists steal” quote attributed to Pablo Picasso that Steve Jobs famously echoed into geek minds.

“Actually, I thank Snapchat for the idea [of Stories] and Instagram for knocking them off,” he said as we swerved around a trail corner. “I think of it as, if other brands…are driving awareness, then the whole market can grow. So its actually a good thing.”

“In the end I totally credit [Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom] and [Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg] and whoever else who made the decision of, you know what, a good design is a good design. And we can try to invent something new that the customer wont like as much as they like the Stories concept or make something similar… all it is stitching the (video clips) together. Hey man, let the best design win. And that approach is awesome.” Woodman is no doubt conscious that people will look at QuikStories and the one-tap auto-video creation process it champions and think it’s a Snapchat/Instagram Stories knockoff.

GoPro is morphing into a company that’s very Apple-like.

I’m not sure why because aside from having “Stories” in the name, QuikStories isn’t really similar to Snapchat or Instagram Stories. Its auto-created videos aren’t vertical and there aren’t any of the childish stickers or doodling features QuikStories is just an automatic video editor that your GoPro footage and compiles them together so you don’t have to do it yourself.

“Instagram Stories and Snapchat Stories is awesome for all of the use cases of a phone. [With QuikStories] were just enabling all of the GoPro use cases, and for us not to explain it in simple terms as that because thats what it is were just making it more complicated than it needs to be. There was this initial resistance that, ughhh, wed just be copying [Instagram Stories]. First of all its great idea, and secondly were not copying them because they [laughs] copied Snapchat.”

If you think about it, GoPro is morphing into a company that’s very Apple-like. It’s realized that it needs to own the whole stack provide both hardware and software, and make them super easy to use together while simultaneously connecting to existing platforms, like Instagram.

“Were the only ones out there driving awareness and excitement [for action cameras married with a smartphone experience]. So people are like, ‘Are you worried about Snapchat?’ You gotta be. And the answers no.”

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