We could be in for the next big initial public offering now that GoPro has filed confidential IPO documents with the SEC. I'm not normally one to get excited by IPOs, and I thought the hype over Twitter (TWTR), Facebook (META 2.53%), and LinkedIn (NYSE: LNKD) in the past three years was crazy. However, GoPro has piqued my interest.
There are a few key differences between GoPro and IPOs that have dominated the market in recent years. Let's look at why this maker of video cameras and accessories is different.
What we know about GoPro
For now, GoPro's SEC filings and financial statements are private, but we do know a few things about the company from management interviews and media reports.
GoPro has been profitable since it was launched in 2002 and at least doubled revenue each year through 2012 to more than $500 million. The company's last financing round involved $200 million from Hon Hai Precision Industry, a.k.a. Foxconn, and valued the company at $2.3 billion.
This is a far cry from Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn -- tech IPOs that began with an idea and are still trying to figure out how to make money off of it. GoPro started with a product people were willing to pay money for right off the bat, which is a huge difference, in my opinion.
Potentially just as important, founder and CEO Nick Woodman still owns more than half the company, and he's the visionary that has made GoPro what it is today. Companies with active founders generally outperform the market over the long term, and this is a key element to look for in such a young company.
GroPro makes something tangible
Recent tech IPOs have largely come from companies that don't physically make anything, but rather depend upon users to return to their websites day after day. Twitter and Facebook are at the whims of both users and advertisers, and we know users' tastes can change rapidly when it comes to social media.
But GoPro makes cameras and accessories that everyone from adrenaline junkies to parents use to capture life's live-action moments. Could someone else come in and make a camera just as good as GoPro? Sure, but the company has a brand and retail presence that no competitor can match at the moment. Turning your back on GoPro is a harder switch than turning from Facebook to the next great app, which is stability I like in a company.
In short, companies that make something tangible have more staying power than digital companies that can go from cool to obsolete almost overnight.
GoPro is cool
Maybe the biggest thing GoPro has going for it is its brand.
The brand alone would allow the company to expand into new product lines: wireless microphones, photo editing and sharing software, wearable devices, or almost anything else an active person would use.
You can already see the product line expanding now that GoPro3 offers wireless capabilities, and I think we're just scratching the surface of these products' potential. Woodman has demonstrated the ability to build new product platforms that attract new users; that should continue if GoPro gets additional capital when it becomes a public company.
The risk for GoPro
As much as I like GoPro, there are huge risks for the company.
Unlike smartphones, sports cameras don't have a two-year refresh cycle, so revenue may not recur as quickly as I would like. There's also little opportunity today for recurring revenue from services or other goods. In other words, once you buy a GoPro, you may not ever need to do business with the company again.
Replacement risk is also high. Cameras have been replaced by phones once before, and there's a possibility that the quality and functionality of another device could overtake GoPro. Google Glass, for example, is something of a competitor to GoPro.
Making money off the GoPro phenomenon
We still don't know whether GoPro will actually go public or what it will be worth if it does, but I like the fundamental business more than recent IPOs such as Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.
Right now, if you're looking for a way to get some exposure to GoPro before it goes public, take a look at Ambarella (AMBA 3.31%). The company makes GoPro's video compression chips -- a key to taking the action shots that make the camera so popular. At 24 times next year's earnings estimates, this stock offers good exposure without the high initial price GoPro would likely command.
Drop in at Fool.com as we learn more about GoPro's IPO and what you should think of this exciting new opportunity for investors.