Nicholas Woodman, 38, is a self-made billionaire. He created Woodman Labs, the maker of GoPro cameras, in 2002. Now the company has more than 500 employees and it generated $986 million in 2013. It started trading on public markets this morning. It’s currently valued at $2.6 billion.Woodman married his college sweetheart and has two children. He’s also an adrenaline junkie.
Here’s the fabulous life and career of Woodman, the surfer-dude-turned-billionaire: Goldman is 38 and his company GoPro has made him a billionaire.
GoPro is a camera designed for heavy-duty action, like skydiving and surfing. It goes (and survives) where other cameras can’t. Woodman — an adventure junkie — currently lives a pretty fabulous life.
But he had to work hard for it. When Woodman was 8, he fell in love with surfing after he saw photos from Surfer magazine hung up on a friend’s wall.
Woodman grew up in Silicon Valley. His father was an investment banker who worked on Pepsi’s Taco Bell acquisition.
Woodman sold T-shirts in high school and attended UC San Diego for college, because it was close to the beach. He was initially rejected but he got the decision overturned.
Woodman joined a fraternity located right on the beach. “We got to wake up every morning and surf Black’s,” Woodman told his alma mater’s paper. “Then we’d go to class, and then surf Black’s, and then go to class.”
Woodman met his wife, Jill, in art class. “He had drums; he had guitars; he had three snowboards,” she tells UC San Diego publication, Triton. The Woodmans have two boys.
In the early 2000s, Woodman tried a web venture, game company Funbug, and raised $4 million for it. It died in the dotcom crash when Woodman was 26. He knew he wanted to build a new company, so he planned a five-month surfing trip around Australia and Indonesia for inspiration.
Woodman needed a camera to document his time there, so he strapped one to his arm with rubber bands. And that’s where GoPro was born. Here’s one of the shots from that trip.
Woodman, who also took up race car driving, thought GoPro could be a good replacement for pricey cameras used by other drivers in the industry.
Woodman and his parents invested the initial $260,000 in GoPro. By the time he turned 30, GoPro generated $350,000 per year and it still hadn’t raised money from VCs.
Woodman says his company has been profitable since day one. He saved money by being the company’s model on early packaging.
GoPros were initially sold in surf shops and marketed at trade shows. Woodman traveled to trade shows in his trusty 1971 Volkswagen, “The Biscuit.” The Biscuit was later stolen.
Four years after its launch, GoPro had eight employees. Eventually, the company began selling cameras as well as straps, and that’s when things took off.
One of the breakthrough moments for the company was a 2009 trade show when its new Hero HD camera sold out quickly. “Everybody’s pockets were literally bulging,” one employee told Triton. Within a year, GoPro generated $64 million.
Now the company has more than 500 employees and it has gone public. “It was a 10 year overnight success,” Woodman tells Forbes. But Woodman is still a pretty down-to-earth guy. Here’s a GoPro he made spending time with his family.
The GoPro camera