Marc Barros and Contour Wearable Video Camera Defy Economic Gravity
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You’re careening down a mountain bike trail, plummeting from the troposphere, yo-yoing off a bungee cord, fluming down a waterfall, avalanching off an icy cliff. Your immediate concern?
- Maintaining normal bodily functions.
- Choosing the appropriate final expletive.
- Capturing the rush to post on the Internet.
If your answer is #4, you may already be acquainted with the Contour wearable video camera. The tough little high-def 1080p camcorder attaches to a helmet or goggles to record hands-free, first-person video that, with a single click, can be shared online with fellow adventurers anywhere.
Since 2007, Contour has won a plethora of prestigious design awards, legions of new and active customers, serious venture capital backing and a spot on the Inc. 500 list of the nation’s fastest-growing companies.
“The last three years have been like a rocket ship,” says Marc Barros (BA 2003), Contour’s daring co-founder and CEO.
Barros and co-founder Jason Green (BA 2003) got into the high-speed-video business while students at the University of Washington Foster School of Business. With partner Tim Ennis (BA 2003), they won 3rd place at the 2003 UW Business Plan Competition with Motocam, an onboard camera system that covers a motorcyclist’s blind spots.
But Motocam was the passion of Ennis, a daily motorcycle commuter. Barros and Green were skiers, and safety was not their concern. They wanted an easy way record and share their downhill adventures. And they suspected that many others wanted the same.
They spun off the Motocam concept to an arena as big as the great outdoors and as broad as the World Wide Web. Operating out of a Mountlake Terrace garage on their Business Plan Competition winnings and a modest line of credit co-signed by an uncle, their first offering was utilitarian at best: a lens wired to a clunky camcorder nestled in a backpack. But they persisted.
Light camera, action
“We knew this thing had to be simple,” Barros recalls. “A streamlined camera you can wear when you ski and with one button you can record and, when you plug it in, one button you can post it online.”
They convinced Ziba, the Portland product design firm, to take them on for a royalty. With Ziba, Contour developed the original SD camera, several HD versions and, recently, an HD camera with real-time GPS to graphically document location, altitude and speed.
Accolades have followed: BusinessWeek Idea Award, CES Innovations Award, Time Magazine Gadget of the Year. Men’s Journal Gadget of the Year. Men’s Health Gadget of the Year. Engadget’s Top Camcorder. Outside Magazine Best of 2010.
Customers came, too. In droves. Selling via Amazon.com, REI and retailers around the world, Contour has equipped many thousands of users in 50 different countries engaging in countless adventure sports—from snowmobiling to parasailing, mountaineering to skateboarding, BASE jumping to kayaking. Not only are they active, but also actively posting video to the Contour website, as well as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. The result is an unrivaled database of action video.
“It’s a true community of adventure sports enthusiasts,” says Barros, “that just happens to be driven by our camera.”
The bottom line: a three-year growth rate in excess of 1,500 percent and a debut at 183 in last year’s Inc. 500.
Go big or go home
Despite the distressed economy, outdoor sports continue to penetrate farther into the mainstream. Barros counts 100 million activists worldwide, and growing. “We realized that either we make this a stepping stone to the next start-up, or bring in some experience that can help us grow this thing. That’s the option we chose,” Barros says. “We think there’s a huge opportunity, so let’s go big.”
He orchestrates a staff of 40 and a global network of distributors and sales reps. Contour also continues to push innovation—most recently unveiling an app that allows instant screening of video on a smart phone.
Barros’s company also raised $5 million in growth financing from Montlake Capital and Black Oak Capital Partners. But Contour still runs in start-up gear: lean operations, customer focused, no frills.
Great Recession notwithstanding, Barros likes Contour’s chances. “Our timing couldn’t be better, really,” he says. “We’ve matched video with GPS location with social networking with the rise of the adventure sports lifestyle.
“The company is profitable, so we control our destiny. And people are still passionate about their lifestyle. We’re selling the simplicity of sharing the adventure.”