Nick Woodman grins when he recalls his first trip to CES. “I would have driven the Penske van, unloaded out back, wheeled in our Ikea furniture and constructed the booth ourselves, all five of us.” Eight years later I’m seated across from GoPro’s founder and CEO in a theater, part of a two-story structure with lounge and meeting rooms that company built for CES. “I feel fortunate that I didn’t have build this booth like the old days,” he joked.
Despite the obvious signs of success, GoPro is entering 2017 with a lot to prove. It has promised a return to profitability, banking on sales of its new Hero 5 camera. And yesterday it announced that it was planning to relaunch its Karma drone, which had to be recalled after several units fell out of the sky.
I asked him if the company had plans for a Karma 2. “Of course. The reception for Karma was very strong. It was unfortunate about the recall, but what we learned was that our existing customers and new customers are really excited about Karma’s value proposition,” he said. “It means that the foundation has been laid for great things to come in the Karma line.”
The issue which brought down the Karma was, according to Woodman, quite simple. “I think the world was expecting it to be a much more complicated issue than it really was. In the end we had a mechanical issue related to the battery retention mechanism. So during flight vibration would cause a small number of the batteries loose from their connector, not fall out of the drone, but just back out of its mount enough so that the drone would lose power.”
This was the issue I highlighted in a report back in November. I had speculated that the vibration which caused the battery to come loose might be a symptom of bigger problems with Karma’s design, but Woodman insisted that wasn’t the case. “We had intended to come out with Karma earlier, but we chose to delay it to develop this completely full featured stabilization system for the air, handheld, and wearable. That vision didn’t lead to this battery retention issue. This was literally one of those unfortunate design errors that only show up when we started to build thousands of them and get them into consumer hands.”
I asked Woodman what he thought of the growing competition. The drone section of the show floor at CES has continued to expand rapidly in size. This year there were dozens of drone makers scattered across two different convention centers.
The determination to keep selling and producing drones stems from the belief that GoPro is one of the best-positioned brands in the world to break through the noise in the increasingly crowded drone market. “You have physical manufacturing, distribution, you have to get shelf space at retail, retailers will only give you shelf space if you back it up with marketing dollars. That is a very significant advantage to GoPro,” he argued. “We have spent the last 15 years building a global brand, building global distribution, we’re in tens of thousands of stores around the world.”
I tend to agree with Woodman. The consumer drone market feels like its in a bubble right now, with tons of players jumping into a space that doesn’t really have that many customers. DJI’s dominance continues to grow. But if GoPro can tough out these early setbacks and get its combination of drone, stabilizer, and camera right, it will have a compelling value that sets it apart from the pack.