GoPro is doing a neat thing with its upcoming Initial Public Offering. It's letting its users in on the fun. The maker of the popular wearable cameras is allocating a portion of its new shares to social IPO platform LOYAL3 to make sure that it's not just institutional investors and well-to-do brokerage clients getting stock at the IPO price.
"If it wasn't for you -- our passionate customers and fans -- none of this would be possible," GoPro Chief Executive Officer Nick Woodman said to interested investors. "This is our way of saying thanks."
It's unusual for companies to let their customers get a crack at grabbing a piece of the IPO action before they start trading in the aftermarket. It doesn't always pan out. Vonage shareholders were burned. Boston Beer investors were tickled to know that the vouchers on six packs to participate in the sudsy transaction paid off. Garden Botanika shoppers were obliterated.
GoPro's plan to offer 1.5% of its IPO to fans looking to invest between $100 and $10,000 is a great tip of the hat to the consumers that made it possible, but buying into the wearable computing darling's debut is not without its risks.
As for now, GoPro is looking to price its IPO between $21 and $24, valuing the company at nearly $3 billion. This would be a bargain if it was cheap, but investors may want to reconsider the IPO or at the very least hopping off quickly after it treats early birds to an early pop.
I've suggested that investors buy Ambarella (NASDAQ:AMBA) instead of GoPro. It's the lone provider of video compression and image processing semiconductors for GoPro's cameras, but Ambarella isn't hogtied to GoPro's popularity. Ambarella's presence in Dropcam surveillance cameras and a recent deal for Google Helpouts provide diversification in high-def cameras.
That's a good thing these days. GoPro was on a tear in 2012 when revenue more than doubled and again last year when sales soared 87% to hit $985.7 million. However, revenue surprisingly declined during the first quarter with operating expenses shooting 46% higher.
GoPro's prospectus warns investors that the heady growth through 2013 isn't likely to be repeated. This doesn't mean that its prospects peaked last year. The first quarter could be a fluke. If GoPro was going public as an exit strategy it would be selling a ton of insider stock. It also wouldn't be likely to promote the shares to individual investors that aren't very market savvy. A sinking stock can lead to upset shareholders. We saw that happen with Vonage when the Web-based phone service actually had to go after customers that didn't pay up for the busted IPO's stock.
GoPro is naturally hoping that it follows Boston Beer's road map. Investors that got in at $15 in 1995 are sitting pretty on a nearly 15-bagger today. However, until GoPro actually delivers its next few quarters of financials it will be hard to tell if it did in fact peak late last year or if all of the R&D spending that's weighing on profits now will pay off. By then it will be too late, of course. Investors need to decide now, and missing out on an opening day pop will make this a gamble that many small investors choose to make. Ambarella's still the smarter and safer wager.