Lessons from Nick Woodman at the 2012 Inc. 500 Conference

Posted on: October 6, 2012

As a business owner, there are two types of consultants you can hire and two types of people you can learn from. There are those that have done what you’re trying to do, and those that (appear to) know all the theories, but have never actually put those theories to the test.

Hire (and listen to) the latter, and the Inc. conference was full of them!  i

I’d like to share with you some of the things I learned. I’ll start with one of the first speakers, Nick woodman, founder and inventor of GoPro.

GoPro makes things like this possible:


Amazing, right? I’d say so! As a side note, Nick wore a GoPro while giving his speech. I don’t know when or how that video will be released, but when it is, I’ll update this post with it!

There are a number of takeaways from Nick’s speech, here are some of the high notes:

1. Follow your passion.

Nick Woodman, founder of GoPro, gave an amazing speech filled with candor and inspiration. He suggested that, as new age as it sounds, there are no coincidences in life. Each and every one of us has a “path.” That path is following your passion. When you follow your passion and do the things you are truly passionate about, good things will happen and you’ll end up living the life you were meant to live.

To illustrate this, Nick talked about how he came up with the idea for GoPro. He was preparing for a surf trip to Indonesia (I think), and wanted a way to document his friend’s feats in the water. He came up with the idea to have a small, water-proof camera strapped to his wrist. Having the camera strapped tightly to his wrist, with the ability to flip the camera up and then quickly lock it back down, he theorized that he could paddle out through the breaking waves and simultaneously snap some cool shots of his friends surfing.

Nick’s original product idea was a success, but he experienced a bigger breakthrough while pursuing another one of his passions, driving race cars. At some point, he was signed up to learn how to drive a race car. While at the track, the folks running the show asked him if he wanted to pay $100 to have his experience video tapped. Nick thought, “this is crazy, I’ll just go get my GoPro and velcro it to the roll bar of the car. Boom, his next big idea was set in motion – mountable HD video cameras.

Of course, if you have any familiarity with GoPro, you know where the story goes from here. Nick and GoPro are killing it, and he was recently on the cover of Inc. magazine! Intellectually, there’s nothing new about Nick’s message – follow your passion. However, hearing it from someone that has done it, someone that has lived it (and continues to live it), and hearing it in-person triggered a change in me.

“Great ideas are things that come to us when we’re on the path to our passion.” – Nick Woodman

I don’t care whether your passion is to build Maryland’s best plumbing company or to help small businesses grow and create as many jobs as possible, things have a way of working out when you’re passionate about something and you follow your heart. According to Nick, the universe likes happy beings and great spirits have a way of producing great “luck.”

2. You can do it.

Another thing Nick said that I thought was really compelling was that he always figured at some point – once GoPro got to a particular size, revenue, etc. – he’d have to bring in someone that “actually knows what they’re doing.” As an art major, how could he possibly know what to do? Of course, for as fast as GoPro’s growth has been, at each milestone, Nick has somehow found a way to get things done (which is really remarkable despite his comments to the contrary).

I’ve certainly felt the same way from time to time while running Blue Corona. Again, if you follow your passion, things seem to have a way of figuring themselves out, and you have to remember that in all but a few very rare cases, you don’t have to learn all the lessons at once. Challenges typically come in small groups. If you take each one as it comes, and continually think about what’s best for your customers, your employees, and what solution best aligns with your company’s mission, things seem to fall into place – at least this has been my experience (and I think Nick would agree as well).

3. Hire cultural fit.

For the most part, business skills are relatively easy to teach. Culture is a different animal. The right person can learn whatever it is you need them to know. Trying to get someone that is a cultural mis-match to fit in is not only exhausting, but it’s likely impossible. To be successful, you’re going to have to put in the time – 10,000 hours according to Malcom Gladwell. So, do as Nick suggests and surround yourself with people you love – or at least like. Think about this (constantly) as you interview and hire new people. Life is too short to work with people you can’t stand.

4. Live in a big world and go for it.

While the average business owner may take more risks than the everyday Tom, Dick, or Sally, Nick suggests that most business owners are actually quite risk averse. Conditioning yourself to take risks and, at times, big risks, can be a real competitive advantage. Nick says he likes to imagine himself as an old man looking back at his life. He tries to make the decision – in the present – that the old man version of himself would like him to make. He suggests that life if better in a big world; that business owners should be aggressive and try to really “move the needle.” He says, “every time I’m confronted with a big challenge, I go for it.” Great advice.

Stay tuned for more interesting insights and takeaways from the 2012 Inc. 500 conference!

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