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Month: May 2018

From beads to boards to becoming a billionaire

From beads to boards to becoming a billionaire


Nick Woodman was failure, or at least his first two entrepreneurial attempts were.

His first attempt was an e-commerce brand – – which aimed to sell electronics products for a mere 2% mark-up. Unfortunately it tanked, and fast.

His second start-up, for which he managed to raise $3.9 million was Funbug, “a gaming and marketing platform that gave users the chance to win cash prizes.” Like so many tech start-ups of the early 2000s, it didn’t gain traction and burnt through its money fast.

Nick needed a break, to lick his wounds and, like any good Californian, to go surfing.

The problem Nick encountered was close to heart and his love of surfing. It was how to capture the thrill and excitement of riding a ‘barrel’ – the cylinder inside a wave. Surfing is usually filmed from afar, often from the shore or maybe a boat or jet-ski. Nick wanted to have images from the inside out not outside in.

His solution was to attach a camera to his wrist and his first prototype was made out of a broken surfboard leash and rubber bands and allowed him to dangle a Kodak disposable camera to his wrist for easy operation when the perfect wave hit.


Brad Schmidt, a friend who would later become GoPro’s creative director, met Nick in Indonesia and made some suggested improvements including the need for a more durable camera, one that take the wear and tear of the sea.

Returning to California Woodman felt he was really onto something this time.

He borrowed $200,000 from his father, $35,000 and a sewing machine from his mother, which he would use to sew the different camera straps he tried while experimenting with early designs. He and his future wife, Jill generated an additional $10,000 by selling shell necklaces they bought in Bali.

Finally he had something he was happy with and he took his first product to market, a combination of a 35mm film camera developed by Hotax, Woodman’s custom wrist strap and camera housing and the new GoPro name and logo.

This time round Nick and his new brand were to prove a success.

It was to prove the right thing to do in more ways than he expected. While recharging his batteries he would identify a problem and in solving it would create the basis for a multi-million dollar brand.

In 2004, Woodman made his first big sale when a Japanese company ordered 100 cameras at a sports show.

Gopro QVC

In 2005, Woodman appeared on QVC to sell his GoPro Hero.

Sales soared and by 2012, GoPro was selling over 2 million cameras a year. Along the way, the products have evolved and now include compact digital cameras that supports WiFi, can be remotely controlled, have better waterproof housing and record to a micro SD card.

In December 2012, the Taiwanese contract manufacturer Foxconn purchased 8.88% of the company for $200 million which set the market value of the company at $2.25 billion making Woodman, who owned the majority of the stock, a billionaire.[

On June 26, 2014, GoPro went public – closing the day at $31.34 a share.

In 2014, Woodman was the highest paid US chief executive, paying himself $235 million while GoPro earned profits of $128 million – not bad for a ‘failure’.

From Biomimicry to Metonymy via Portmanteau – a vocabulary lesson that doubles as story of innovation

From Biomimicry to Metonymy via Portmanteau – a vocabulary lesson that doubles as story of innovation

burrs and velcro

Georges de Mestral, a Swiss engineer, used to take his dog with him when he went out hunting in Alps. After these days out he would often have to spend some time pulling off the burrs that clung to his trousers and his dogs’ fur.

He was curious to understand how and why this happened, so he took one of the burdock burrs and out it under a microscope. He could now see the hundreds of tiny “hooks” that caught on anything with a loop, such as clothing, animal fur, or hair and he started to wonder if he could somehow turn this natural phenomena into something useful.

Luckily de Mestral was patient man because he took him nearly eight years of trying before he could successfully reproduced a form of natural attachment system. He used two strips of fabric, one with thousands of tiny hooks and another with thousands of tiny loops. It was to become one of the most famous examples of what is called biomimicry – an invention inspired by nature

Over the long period of experimentation he had plenty of time to think about how it could be used and identified its potential to fasten things together, to do things up but which could then be un-done. It was an idea that would be described as ‘The zipper-less zipper.’ He also decided on a name for his new product, like the product itself he chose something that had two separate elements which when combined created something new. He chose a portmanteau word, comprising the words “velvet” and “crochet” and created Velcro.


He formally patented it his invention in 1955.

The first Velcro was made out of cotton but de Mestral soon discovered that nylon worked better because it didn’t wear with use.

Sales of Velcro took off, or rather blasted off when in the early 1960s the Apollo astronauts started using it to secure pens, food packets and equipment they didn’t want floating away.
The resulting PR encouraged all sorts of other applications – Hospitals used it on the straps of blood pressure gauges and on patient gowns. It was used in trains, planes and automobiles as fasteners for floor mats, slipcovers, seat cushions. In 1968, Puma became the first major shoe company to offer a sneaker with Velcro fasteners.

puma velcro

In 1984, David Letterman interviewed Velcro USA’s director of industrial sales while wearing a Velcro suit. When the interview was over, he launched himself via trampoline onto a Velcro wall. Another new use for Velcro was created – outfits for “human fly” contests.


By the late 1980s, Velcro original patent had expired and companies in Europe, Mexico and Asia started making their own versions of the product and while there is only one brand that is legally allowed to call itself Velcro, many of the others are often referred to as Velcro.

velcro logo

Velcro had joined that select band of metonymy brands where their name is, in common parlance, used to refer to an entire category of product. Others include Ziploc, Sellotape and Guinness.

So now you know how Velcro began and may have had your vocabulary increased too!