And the company's plan to fix things
In saying farewell to GoPro’s departing chief financial officer yesterday, CEO Nick Woodman jokingly offered this advice: “I hope you finally learn how to surf.” Kidding aside, that same advice should probably have been given to anyone who bought GoPro shares during or after its initial public offering in June of 2014.
GoPro, along with its shareholders, has been navigating a series of turbulent waves in recent months. The latest tide of bad news came this week: Not just the announcement that CFO Jack Lazar will depart in March, but the dire financial numbers the company reported, along with the news that it will stop offering any quarterly guidance in the future.
Put all these together and you have a cocktail that can lead to an investor freakout. That’s exactly what happened when GoPro announced its fourth-quarter earnings Wednesday after the stock market’s official close. When the announcement hit, the company’s shares were halted in after-hours trading. Once trading resumed, GoPro’s share price plunged 21%.
About those earnings. Revenue at GoPro declined 31% to $437 million last quarter. What was an 83 cents a share profit a year ago turned into a 25 cents a share loss. Believe it or not, that wasn’t the worst part, because lousy results were widely foreseen. Three weeks ago, GoPro warned that last quarter’s numbers would be much, much worse than analysts had been expecting — or that its own guidance had been indicating.
No, the worst part was that the current quarter would be, if anything, even more disappointing than anticipated. Wall Street had been looking for $298 million in revenue, but GoPro said the figure would be closer to $170 million. That’s equal to about half the $363 million revenue in the first quarter of 2015. For the full year, revenue will come in between $1.35 billion and $1.5 billion. That range too is well below the $1.61 billion analysts had been expecting.
As a public company, GoPro has imported its customers’ devil-may-care optimism, crucial to victory in extreme sports, into the public stock markets. The thing is, if you wipe out on a surfboard, you can usually get up and catch the next wave. In public markets, a wipeout can mean years of recovery as investors pile on top of you.
So it’s not just that GoPro saw its revenue decline and its profit turn into a loss. It’s that the company will badly miss its own targets for two quarters running. And that this is happening because its product pricing and growth strategy are being revised dramatically without warning. And, in the middle of all this, the company is changing its CFO.
To their credit, Woodman and Lazar did their best on the earnings call to explain why this turbulent change is happening now, and why it may soon pass. That explanation didn’t erase all of that initial 21% drop in GoPro’s value, but it did engineer enough of a rebound that the stock was trading down only 9% after they finished speaking.
Woodman explained that GoPro was essentially cutting free its lower-end cameras. By April, the value-oriented Hero, Hero+, and Hero+LCD cameras will no longer be sold. The premium cameras – named Hero4 Session, Hero4 Silver, and Hero4 Black – will be the company’s lineup. Last quarter, GoPro slashed the price on its Hero4 Session camera in half to $199, accounting for much of the lost revenue as well as a $57 million charge last quarter.
“When you give the consumer too many choices, you confuse them and they oftentimes end up buying nothing,” Woodman explained. But you have to wonder if some more creative, less bureaucratic naming of all these cameras would have avoided this problem entirely. In any case, GoPro is rebuilding its camera lineup around the Session, which Woodman said is “arguably the best GoPro we’ve ever made.”
The reason for that seems to be because the Session is the most Apple-like product GoPro has ever made. As Woodman said in the call:
Apple gets a lot of credit for developing an iOS interface that two-year-olds can use. That’s something that we’ve always been envious of. And I am happy to say that with Session we’ve produced a product that I can confirm a one-and-a-half-year-old kid can use. Because my son regularly picks up my Session, presses the button and follows the rest of the family around with it. And that’s a very meaningful breakthrough.
This isn’t just a cute family anecdote. It gets to the heart of GoPro’s problems in 2016. Apple, for decades, was supported by a small but rabid fan base, until the iPod and later the iPhone broke through to the mainstream. Other companies like Fitbit are also struggling to cross the barrier from niche to mainstream, and it isn’t easy.
Woodman’s answer is “doubling down” on GoPro’s efforts to “improve the convenience of the GoPro experience,” meaning new software that makes the editing and sharing GoPro footage much easier. These efforts, Woodman says, involve reallocations of staff even amidst a 7% reduction in its workforce last month.
The question is, will that be enough to keep GoPro relevant in coming years? The software upgrades are coming in 2016, Woodman vows, as is a drone camera named the Karma, a logical if creepy market to move into given that plenty of people are already attaching GoPros to their drones. More promisingly, Woodman said “we have several products in development that will position GoPro as a leader in VR,” or virtual reality.
GoPro will likely never return to the $12 billion market value it boasted a few months after its IPO. After its earnings report, it was valued closer to $1.25 billion, a little more than a tenth of its peak value. That valuation is less than GoPro’s annual revenue (most growing companies have values several times their revenue). And so this is a company whose future may not lie as much in defining new markets as in being swallowed by an existing giant.
Asked about the possibility of being acquired, Woodman said, “We are always looking at opportunities to accelerate our execution and realization of our vision. We do believe that we are capable with the internal resources we now have, but that does not mean that we’re not also keeping an eye out of opportunities to accelerate.”
Hear that, big tech? Still, that would be an anticlimactic end for an adrenaline-fueled company. GoPro came from nowhere because it pioneered a camera that tapped into the passion of extreme sports enthusiasts. Now it’s pioneering a form of extreme finance, in which navigating hairpin turns and skiing down snowy cliff faces is an audacious new game. Trouble is, this game may not appeal to the weak stomachs on Wall Street — just as the GoPro camera may never cross over at scale into the mainstream.