GoPro's (GPRO 1.94%) near-80% plunge over the past year was well-deserved. The company didn't launch new flagship cameras during the year, overestimated its quarterly sales twice, and launched a tiny overpriced camera that no one asked for. The company's plans for media growth, drones, and virtual reality remain nebulous, and analysts expect its annual sales growth to flatten to just 0.6% this year. Meanwhile, rivals have flooded the market with smaller, cheaper, and arguably more innovative devices like 360-degree panoramic cameras.
Looking back at the timeline of GoPro's precipitous plunge, investors will notice that the company missed several huge opportunities since its IPO. Let's discuss three of those opportunities, and how they could have saved GoPro from its current predicament.
1. Partnering with its top investor
Back in 2012, contract manufacturing giant Foxconn bought a 8.88% stake in GoPro at $17.08 per share, which valued the budding start-up at $2.25 billion. Prior to its IPO, analysts speculated that Foxconn and GoPro would ink a strategic manufacturing partnership. Yet that deal never materialized, reportedly due to differences in opinion between GoPro CEO Nick Woodman and Foxconn CEO Terry Gou.
Gou never took a seat on GoPro's board, and GoPro ended up signing manufacturing deals with smaller companies like Taiwan's Chicony Electronics. Last November, Foxconn revealed that it had sold 30% of its stake in GoPro over the past year.
If GoPro had worked more closely with Foxconn, it likely could have secured a sweetheart manufacturing deal that would have boosted its margins and production capacity. Foxconn has also been willing to license well-known brands, as it did with Nokia's N1 tablet, to reduce its dependence on overseas tech giants. If GoPro had licensed its brand to Foxconn to sell devices like headphones or speakers, it could have strengthened its brand recognition among consumers and generated a fresh stream of licensing revenue.
2. Taking advantage of the law enforcement market
After a series of controversial police shootings caused major protests across America, it seemed like market demand for on-officer cameras would rise. This caused investor interest in Taser International (AXON 4.34%), the manufacturer of non-lethal guns and Axon body cameras, to rise in 2014 and 2015. Analysts currently expect Taser's revenue and earnings to respectively grow 17% and 10% this year.
Taser's market cap peaked at nearly $1.9 billion last summer. But after fundamental gravity caught up to the stock, its value fell to around $800 million. This actually makes Taser a fairly affordable takeover candidate for GoPro, which finished last quarter with $280 million in cash and $233 million in marketable securities. GoPro would need to finance the takeover with debt or its own stock, but it would certainly be a clever way to diversify its top line away from action cameras. Taser's projected revenue of $226 million for next year would account for 12% of the combined company's top line.
Unfortunately, GoPro threw cold water on hopes for a strategic acquisitions by authorizing a $300 million buyback last quarter. It's unclear how many shares GoPro has bought back since then, but it shows that the company is more interested in propping up its stock price and offsetting dilution than making meaningful long-term investments.
3. Getting on board with Qualcomm and the connected-camera market
In 2015, GoPro introduced three new cameras -- the Hero 4 Session, the Hero+ LCD, and the Hero+. The Hero 4 Session was a smaller device aimed at mainstream consumers, the Hero+ LCD was basically a cheaper version of its popular Hero 4 Silver, and the Hero+ was an upgraded version of its entry-level Hero. These new models all had Wi-Fi connectivity, but none of them had stand-alone 4G connectivity -- which could let users stream live content or upload content without a phone.
Meanwhile, mobile chipmaker Qualcomm (QCOM 2.34%) started expanding into the market with chipsets for 4G connected cameras to challenge GoPro's chip supplier Ambarella (AMBA 3.54%). Last year, Qualcomm won overall several 4G action camera designs, including the 4GEE Action Cam and Benq's QC1.
Morgan Stanley analysts noted that Qualcomm would gain a cost advantage against Ambarella once cellular connectivity was factored in. If stand-alone 4G cameras become standard for action cams, drones, and dash cams over the next few years, GoPro and Ambarella could be left behind by companies using Qualcomm's mobile-based designs.
Hindsight is 20/20
I realize that hindsight is 20/20, but it seems that instead of pursuing the long-term potential of deals with Foxconn, Taser, and Qualcomm, the company wasted a whole year discussing media, cloud, VR, and drone ambitions that have yet to materialize. However, it's still not too late to pursue these deals, which could patch up some holes in its sinking business.