The following script is from "GoPro" which aired on Nov. 10, 2013. The correspondent is Anderson Cooper. David Schneider, producer.
Nick Woodman is an avid surfer who 12 years ago created a waterproof camera so he could record himself and his friends catching some waves. It's called a GoPro, and it's now the bestselling camera in the world, and it's made Woodman a billionaire. GoPro is a wearable camera that can go just about anywhere, but what really sets it apart is that it allows anyone to become the star of their own real life movie. The results can be astonishing.
With GoPro cameras attached to their helmets, Matthias Giraud and his friend record what it's like to ski down a mountain in the French Alps -- and then to ski off it.
With GoPro you don't just see the action, you experience it. The camera is small, light and runs by itself. Underwater, on waves, on slopes, in the air -- GoPro has become the go-to camera for people who like adventure and action sports.
Nick Woodman: The original idea for GoPro was to help surfers capture photos of themselves surfing that made them look like a pro-- the idea "Go Pro."
Nick Woodman is 38, and thanks to the camera he created, one of America's newest billionaires.
Nick Woodman: Before GoPro, if you wanted to have any footage of yourself doing anything, whether it's video or photo, you not only needed a camera, you needed another human being. And if you wanted the footage to be good, you needed that other human being to have skill with the camera. The result was that most people never had any footage of themselves doing anything.
GoPro has certainly changed that. It can be attached to all kinds of things: the nose of a kayak, a hula hoop, a vulture in flight. It costs less than $400 and its wide angle lens doesn't just take high definition video, it can also take photographs, record time lapse and slow motion.
In 2012, a hundred and 38 sky divers, many of them wearing GoPros on their helmets and harnesses, set the world record for something called vertical sky diving. The aerial gathering was breathtaking and beautiful.
Back on planet Earth, a bike messenger and his feline co-pilot use a GoPro to record their rides on the streets of Philadelphia.
Nick Woodman Everybody around the world does something that they-- that they'd like to capture and relive and share with other people.
Anderson Cooper: Are you still surprised at how the camera's being used?
Nick Woodman: Oh, absolutely--
Nick Woodman: I always think of-- James Trosh...a teenager in the U.K.
Trosh, a film student, attached a GoPro and a toy robot to a weather balloon and then let it go. It rose 95,000 feet to the edge of space.
Nick Woodman: I remember seeing it for the first time on YouTube and just having my mind blown. I mean, we had never thought of using a GoPro like that. And I remember just saying, "That's what I'm talking about!"
Woodman was 26 when he started GoPro in 2002. He was a young entrepreneur with one failure already under his belt: an online gaming venture.
Anderson Cooper: It was a tech startup?
Nick Woodman: Yeah. FunBug.com-- I started it when I was 24. Raised $4 million of other people's money and lost it all two years later.
Because of that, he decided to finance GoPro himself with $260,000 in savings and money borrowed from family.
The first GoPro was a waterproof film camera attached to a wrist strap. Woodman sold them to California surf shops out of his van. Before long, he created a digital video camera that was a fraction of the size. Woodman sold enough of them that he could afford to take lessons to learn how to drive a race car. That's when he realized what the camera could become.
Nick Woodman: They-- wanted to rent me a camera to put on the car for 100 bucks for a half-hour session. And I thought, "Well, that's crazy. I've got a wrist camera in my car, my GoPro that shoots video. I'll just strap it to the roll bar. And everybody else in the school gathered around me and asked me, "Hey, where did you get that?" And I remember turning to the fellow that asked me and I said, "Dude, I made that." And I went out and I did my practice session in the race car, came back and looked at the footage and, "Wow." The light bulb went off and I realized GoPro needs to go from being a wrist camera company to being, you know, the everything camera company.
GoPros are now everywhere. People use them to turn family home videos into images even strangers might enjoy watching. Mount the camera on a stick, and a game of fetch with your dog, takes on a whole new focus.
Capturing action sports remains the camera's biggest selling point, and GoPro sponsors athletes as a way of promoting its brand.
Daredevil Jeb Corliss travels the globe to fly in a wingsuit adorned with GoPros. Here, he's rocketing along the Alps in Switzerland. Corliss makes a good part of his living licensing the video.
GoPro also sponsors Kelly Slater, the biggest name in surfing who's won a record breaking 11 world championships. Slater's camera skills have also pushed the boundaries of surfing photography.
Nick Woodman: Every surfer in the world dreams to ride the inside of a wave, a barrel, like Kelly Slater. And Kelly can take his fans there by-- he puts a GoPro in his mouth while he paddles into the wave. And as he pulls into the barrel, he takes the camera out of his mouth and holds it behind him, looks back and is traveling inside of this wave, having this incredible experience that before he was never able to share with anybody.
Its images like these that contribute to GoPro's bottom line. Revenue has doubled every year. Sales went from $350,000 in 2005 to over $500 million in 2012. It's on track to double that this year.
Anderson Cooper: Do you worry about growing too fast?
Nick Woodman: I don't worry about it anymore. There was a time where-- when I should've been jumping up and down for joy at how well the business was going, I was actually terrified, and I understood for the first time what people mean when they say, "Success can kill a business that isn't ready for it."
A prime example is the new model camera Woodman released in 2012. Some customers complained their cameras suddenly stopped working. GoPro had to scramble to fix the problem with software updates.
Nick Woodman: We launched a product before the software was fully, fully, fully mature. And we didn't know it.
GoPros may be the perfect camera for a self-obsessed and selfie-obsessed generation. Nick Woodman certainly likes to document practically everything he does.
Woodman with GoPro in his mouth: This is the way I use it all the time.
We tagged along with him on a surfing trip to Mexico. His old van is long gone, replaced by his new private jet.
Woodman stands in aisle: "Show me what this thing can do!"
Woodman was with old friends who helped him start GoPro and still work there. The trip was for fun, but also to put the company's new cameras to the test.
Nick Woodman: If it doesn't work in the real world, and frankly, if it doesn't work in the surf, well, there's a good chance that we won't make it.
Unlike most cameras, GoPros are used by both amateurs and professionals alike. At 60 Minutes, we use them to get shots that other cameras simply can't. We've attached them to the ends of polo mallets, climbers clinging to the cliffs of Yosemite. And taken them on dives in the Okavanga Delta to get up close with deadly Nile crocodiles.
Nick Woodman: You have the 60 Minutes of the world using the same camera that, you know-- 12-year-olds are using to document themselves snowboarding the half pipe.
Anderson Cooper: Do you worry, though, sometimes kids take it too far?
Nick Woodman: You know, that's definitely a concern. Thankfully, I think that humans' inherent desire to stay alive kicks in and GoPro isn't the first thing that's enabled people to see other people doing crazy things.
With so many GoPros in so many places, they're increasingly catching all manner of mishaps. This GoPro was stolen by a seagull in the French city of Cannes, resulting in a genuine bird's eye view. GoPros also capture more serious events. In a now infamous incident in September, motorcyclists in New York tangled with the driver of an SUV. A helmet-mounted GoPro captured the confrontation.
Beyond bad behavior, they're also recording some of the natural wonders of the world. The Scripps Institute of Oceanography uses off-the-shelf GoPros in its high tech labs in Southern California.
Eric Terrill: We develop our own technology, but we're not technology snobs. If there's a m-- off-the-shelf solution that will fit the bill for us, we're going to use it.
Scientist Eric Terrill mounts the $400 GoPro on a $350,000 ocean-going research torpedo to map coral reefs in high detail.
Anderson Cooper: You're seeing parts of the ocean and things in the ocean you'd never seen before?
Eric Terrill: At the resolution that it's providing us and over long distances. So, it's enabling us now to survey wide areas that we hadn't really been able to do beforehand.
In waters off the Pacific islands of Palau, Terrill's team uses the cameras to find the sunken wreckage of World War II planes. They also send GoPros into the sky on small remote controlled drones...
[Anderson Cooper: That is amazing.]
...to survey the cliffs near Scripps Institute in La Jolla. The high resolution video is then turned into 3D models that will help track erosion over time.
Low cost drones are opening new horizons for Nick Woodman's company. For under a thousand dollars, amateurs can get the kind of footage that was previously only possible with big budget professional productions. Sometimes the images are so startling, it's hard to tell if they're from Hollywood's computerized reality... or reality.
In August, 2012, Mark Peters and his friends were tuna fishing off California when they lowered a GoPro into the water to see what was down there.
Nick Woodman: And when he got home and loaded it on his computer to watch it, he was just totally blown away by what he saw.
Nick Woodman: And then the rest of the world was blown away by what he saw: these beautiful dolphins dancing. And it looked like it was a professional production shoot, but it was just a fisherman on his way home.
GoPro turned the dolphin video into a commercial. It has a team that scours YouTube and the web looking for amateur videos it can feature on TV or online. This video of Charlie Ray Wick, learning how to walk and going airborne, became a commercial that ran during the Super Bowl. The strategy is to take advantage of what might be GoPro's most effective sales force -- its own customers.
Anderson Cooper: You get new video all the time.
Nick Woodman: All the time.
Nick Woodman: So this is actually a f-- video of a firefighter rescuing and resuscitating a kitten.
Anderson Cooper: And a video like that would very easily go viral around the world. I mean--
Nick Woodman: Oh-- Oh, my God, yeah.
Anderson Cooper: And that's essentially a commercial for GoPro.
Nick Woodman: Essentially a commercial for GoPro. It's a marketer's dream and it's all based off of authenticity, right. It's our customers doing interesting things around the world. And they're so stoked that they're able to finally self-document these things that they like to do and share it with people. They're so stoked at how good they look in the video that when they share the video they often give us credit: My GoPro ski trip, my GoPro day at the park with my kids.
Anderson Cooper: You're the only CEO I've ever interviewed who has used the word "stoked."
Nick Woodman: Like, 5 million times.
Anderson Cooper: It's about 5 million times, yes.
Nick Woodman: Well, you know, it's-- it's-- you've gotta stay true to who you are. And I recognize that my approach to life and our-- now our company's approach to life is what has made GoPro what it is. And so there's no reason to change that.