It's been a rough past few years for GoPro (NASDAQ:GPRO) stock. Surging to prominence in the post-recession, venture-capital-fueled "age of the unicorn," GoPro and its innovative action cameras initially drew comparisons to a young Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), the poster child a for successful hardware-driven electronics business.
That comparison has turned out to be optimistic, to say the least, and GoPro shares have marched downward in the roughly two years since its stock price bubble burst.
After GoPro engaged in some painful restructuring in 2016, its earnings report earlier this month offered investors a glimpse into what it sees around the bend for its business. Investors responded by sending its shares southbound.
But how low is too low? With its shares in the tank, let's see whether GoPro is finally cheap enough to deserve investors' interest.
GoPro earnings: What we learned
Just about everything that could go wrong for GoPro did in 2016. During its Q3 conference call, the company alerted investors to the production problems that affected the company's then-forthcoming HERO5 Black action camera. The Q3 spillover effect from its production issues hampered GoPro's ability to supply enough HERO5 Black devices to some of its key retail partners. These retailers, in turn, pulled promotional support for the HERO5 Black, which caused the company to capture less holiday season demand than it had anticipated.
Compounding its problems, GoPro encountered issues with the launch of its much-touted Karma drone, as problems with the latch that held its battery in place caused the Karma to lose power in midair. GoPro halted production of the Karma until a redesigned latch could be introduced, and that setback also led to underwhelming Karma sales during the fourth quarter.
The quarter wasn't without some positives, though. For the quarter, sales rose 24% to $540.6 million, the second largest revenue total for a quarter in GoPro's 14 years in operation. The company also enacted a major cost restructuring, including killing its GoPro Entertainment division and eliminating 200 full-time employees -- efforts that the company expects will reduce its operating cost structure by $100 million annually to an annual run rate below $600 million.
In the year ahead, GoPro plans to focus its efforts on a small handful of initiatives, including increasing its emphasis on its image-editing software, Quik; expanding its brand reach by creating new ways to engage its user base; growing internationally; and continuing to create compelling hardware. All of this sounds encouraging, in theory. However, I'm still not sold that the company's new strategic vision and increasing focus on execution are enough to create a sustainably profitable business.
GoPro's strategy makes perfect sense. Creating new types of devices, like the Karma, and attempting to create an end-to-end software and hardware ecosystem should help expand the breadth and depth of its business footprint. This strategy mirrors the closed ecosystem that Apple has employed to such spectacular results since the launch of the iPod. However, GoPro's devices differ from Apple's in a few important ways that reduce the strength of GoPro's business model in comparison.
The first is the size of its addressable market. For the iPhone, Apple enjoys a potential addressable market of all smartphone users -- which means billions of potential customers, compared with the several million users who buy GoPro each year. Moreover, the smartphone's place as the Swiss Army knife of our digital lives makes it an essential tool for many consumers, compared with the more recreational nature of GoPro's products. Finally, Apple's closed app ecosystem provides a far richer set of user experiences than GoPro's
The point here isn't just to compare and contrast Apple and GoPro. Rather, we're looking at the ways in which a consumer hardware business model needs to differentiate itself to produce meaningful profit. When it comes to the size of its market, the importance of its product to its users, and the stickiness of its software, GoPro falls well short of Apple's template for success.
The analyst figures further bear this out. Wall Street's estimates see GoPro generating single-digit sales growth and continued net losses both this year and next. So while GoPro is indeed employing a sensible strategy to improve its prospects, investing in shares of the action-camera pioneer still seems like a risky proposition.
Andrew Tonner owns shares of Apple. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Apple and GoPro. The Motley Fool has the following options: long January 2018 $90 calls on Apple, short January 2018 $95 calls on Apple, short January 2019 $12 calls on GoPro, and long January 2019 $12 puts on GoPro. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.