Contour co-founder: ‘We weren’t done showing the world what we could do’

Jason Green, who co-founded action-sports camera company Contour Inc. nearly a decade ago and headed up product development and engineering prior to the company’s closure, says he hasn’t given up hope that Contour’s legacy can live on in some form.

Contour6“The things we had lined up for (2013 and 2014) were the best things we had ever done, by a pretty long shot,” said Green via phone this afternoon. “We weren’t done showing the world what we could do.”

He said he didn’t want to provide a sense of false hope, but added, “There’s a part of me that looks at what we’ve got and has some resolve. I don’t know what the future holds, but I don’t see it being void of everything we’ve done or all the people who’ve done it. There’s just too much potential there.”

Contour surprised its employees Friday afternoon with the news that it would be closing its doors, as first reported yesterday by GeekWire. We’ve sent messages to executives including Paul Warburg, the company’s president and chief financial officer, but haven’t yet heard back.

barrosgreen

Jason Green (left) and Marc Barros co-founded what became Contour as University of Washington Students who wanted to record video on the ski slopes.

Green continues to have an equity stake in Contour but was no longer a member of the board, preferring to focus on product development. He declined to go into detail about the business circumstances that led Contour to close its doors but said he believes the decision was financially responsible and prudent.

Contour, founded in 2004 by Green and Marc Barros, faced stiff competition from GoPro, whose parent company Woodman Labs raised $200 million from Foxconn last December in a funding round that valued the venture at $2.25 billion. Contour raised total venture capital of around $16 million over its lifetime, and Green says he believes Contour’s location in Seattle factored into that disparity.

“We’ve been a hardware company in a software town,” he said, explaining that it was sometimes difficult to get the region’s traditionally software-focused investors excited about the company’s hardware plans.

His co-founder Barros, who stepped down as CEO in February, talked about the challenge of competing with GoPro in a candid post on his blog in April. Here’s an excerpt.

At Contour we were winning. But most of the time it felt like we were losing. Despite making what many thought was the best product on the market, the gap between us and GoPro wasn’t shrinking, it was increasing. With each incremental dollar in revenue they gained, the gap widened as they plowed that money back into marketing, forever separating the recognition in consumers’ minds.

An agonizing feeling, that tele-tubby box of a camera haunted my dreams. The more I saw it the more I wanted to scream inside. Not out of anger, but out of disbelief that something so ugly could take over the market like a tidal wave.

Read Barros’ full post here, written in the spirit of a startup founder sharing his unvarnished experience with other entrepreneurs.

We’ll continue to post updates on the Contour story as we receive more information. I’ve been hearing from a variety of people who did business with the company, and I’ve been chasing various leads, but for now much of the situation remains unclear. Stay tuned.

  • http://sitetherapy.net/ rick gregory

    “…written in the spirit of a startup founder sharing his unvarnished experience with other entrepreneurs.”

    Too bad he didn’t share the difficulties with his staff. It’s poor management to simply close down and not even have the guts to tell people, just leave a sign on the door.

    • http://geekwire.com Todd Bishop

      Hi Rick — In case this wasn’t clear: Marc Barros, who wrote that post, had stepped down in February and wasn’t involved in the closure last week. I shared his post because it sheds light on the business challenges Contour faced.

      • http://sitetherapy.net/ rick gregory

        Ah, I read too fast. Thanks Todd. And as I re-read this, good on you Marc.

    • http://marcbarros.com/ Marc Barros

      Agreed, it was a crappy way to end a good company. I wasn’t there and unfortunately couldn’t help to make that different.

      • Lacy Kemp

        Marc for president!

      • http://sitetherapy.net/ rick gregory

        Apologies for my misreading of things.

      • Karma

        Yes. it was a crappy way to end a company. Although you actually led the way when it came to the culture of Contour and how to treat people. I’m sure there are ex-employees who use you as an example of how not to be a leader.

        • http://marcbarros.com/ Marc Barros

          Speaking about a culture you weren’t part of doesn’t make much sense and I’m not sure adds anything to the discussion. A good company got shut down, that’s sad.

          • Craig Edland

            Marc I was sad to hear that you had left the company and that Contour closed it’s doors. I have used all the products on the market and the Contour camera’s totally Rock!! The Contour +2 is way ahead of the competition! Also Contour’s customer support was awesome! Thank you Marc for getting me an upgrade to a Contour + when they came out and I was having an issue with my Contour GPS. I hope the company can resurrect itself.

          • Barbara

            Marc, I am hoping you might help me to retrieve my son’s Contour+2 that was sent back RMA on August 8. Any advice? From here on the east coast all I discovered is that the address is a warehouse, a shipping company accepted the RMA and the PO thinks it’s business as usual for Contour at that address. There are several of us who would appreciate anything you could offer about this. Thanks. What a great camera it was.

      • MikeD

        Agree 100% a sad end to a company with great promise.

        My company was really starting to ramp up our use of Contour cameras for scientific observation and environmental science. The integration of the GPS and the camera, and the availability of tools to extract that data and overlay it with other spatial data made for a very great video product that our clients found very compelling.

        I hope that you will find a way to continue producing products – I know we will be waiting on the edge of our seats to see what rises from the ashes of Contour!

      • David Tyree

        It is really sad that it didn’t work out. I just bought my first Contour camera about a month ago and I really enjoy it.

        What are the chances of seeing the remaining Contour assets used in some meaningful way?

        As a user I’d love to see the iPhone/Android bluetooth app open-sourced. As a software/open-source geek I’d love to see a kickstarter, etc setup to try to continue producing just the hardware.

        • Alexander B

          Yes I need the software to program the Contour too.

  • http://www.kylemulka.com Kyle Mulka

    email me when you get updates? I’m curious.

  • Ron Erickson

    I have used both a Contour and a Go-Pro. The Contour is elegant and extremely easy to use. The Go-Pro lacks elegance and has a clumsy user interface. Where else have we seen this story played out?

    • Avidius

      You used both yet you fail to mention how superior the GoPro’s video quality is. You also failed to mention how GoPro comes with a waterproof housing. Easy choice for water sports enthusiasts. You failed to mention how GoPro has way more mounting options and comes with several depending on the package you chose. But yea, let’s just keep talking about how pretty the Contour was. Only the outside matters right? Like a super model without a brain.

      • Guest
        • Avidius

          And when did this contour come out? When did GoPros start coming with waterproof cases that can go deeper than the contour’s?

          I used to sell both these products and personally made a choice to purchase the GoPro (which I no longer own by the way because my videos were boring lol).

          I’m just pointing out many faults of Contour cameras because people like to only point out GoPro’s marketing.

      • Oscar Munoz

        Well to be fair – Contour+2 Shipped with a waterproof case too, and the Roam and Roam2 were both waterproof without a case up to 1 meter. GoPro has better video quality and bad battery life. Contour has great video and decent battery, When you upload to Youtube the video gets degraded anyways. Can’t beat Contour on ease of use. It’s frustrating to see they didn’t dominate Military and Paintball/Airsoft market. They neglected it when their design was PERFECT for it.

        • Avidius

          Not everyone uses YouTube. And Contour videos still look inferior to a GoPro on there. Both cameras have horrible battery life although the Hero 3 is on top of the bad battery life list even at 720p.

          • Ron Erickson

            I am willing to wager that Avidius is a paid shill for GoPro.
            Waterproof! BFD! What about ease of use?

          • Avidius

            Wager away and lose all your money. Can’t you come up with a more original paranoid conspiracy theory? What would GoPro even gain from hiring me to speak on here? They already beat out Contour. Now I understand why the GoPro is so complicated for you to use.

            I have always said Contour is much easier to use and that all cameras should take a page from their book when it comes to the on-off switch. I have always said that Contour has the most attractive design and even sound unless you take the GoPro out of its housing which would make it completely useless for snow or water sports.

            But that isn’t enough. Contour still has much weaker video and had much less mounting options until fairly recent. Even the waterproofing came out in later models. This gave GoPro too big of a lead and the gap kept widening.

            The only shill I see here is you defending Contour even after its death.

      • pickaname

        wanted to buy a go pro, but got scared about how many issues there were with the new series, most of them solved but not all! also, the issue with the remote which will drain out the battery if on, etc. Went for simple and reliable, and I don’t regret it at all.

    • dannau

      I agree and disagree Ron. I own both, and as much as I love Contour’s handiness and ease of use, the image quality of the GP3 black makes you forget all about it, it is just amazing. I still have my Contour+2 but never got to use it after having used the GP3. Sorry for them and for all the guys working there. Good luck to all.

  • Guest

    Funding was lacking, but there are many things you can do to market yourself without much actual cost. I don’t know what they might have done to connect with other local companies, but we have so many they could have partnered with it would have helped them continue. RAM Mounts, ARB (Aussie with HQ in Kent), Boeing, military application (both Boeing and RAM Mounts work with the military), K2, Kona, the list is endless.

  • richardh

    Shame. I have a contour roam 2 and it’s a good product. I was going to buy a contour plus 2 recently but sadly this is not waterproof, so I purchased a drift instead. That made all the difference to me so maybe slightly better design could have helped a little? Anyway good luck to those guys, it’s really sad.

  • Einar Gregorios

    Shame! One of the few products that don’t make one look like a moron when used.. Go-Pro looks idiotic..

  • russellfrost

    I’ve used both. In fact, I’ve talked with Jason and he was nice enough to send me a camera, a few years ago, to use. But even with that, I think the main differences weren’t marketing, the GoPro is simply a better camera. Yes, like anything, the GoPro is far from perfect but using the Contour was an exercise in faith. I realize that newer Contour cameras have addressed some issues but it’s an issue of too little, too late. I would add that the price disparity between the two made the Contour much less appealing to most of it’s users who would prefer to spend money on their action gear (be it skis or bikes or whatever) than cameras. The GoPro appealed to videographers. Guess who buys more cameras?

    I hope both Jason and Mark land on their feet and find a way to make an elegant camera that is also price competitive and offers the features and video quality videographers seek.

    Finally, having dealt with both Woodland and Contour, I much preferred Contour. The Woodland people were arrogant. Jason was always a decent and very open guy.

    • Ed

      Funny, for snowboarding I’ve much preferred my Contour 2+. I’ve had 3 contour’s now, and the 2+ really felt like they nailed it. I could never get on with the GoPro, just because it felt too fiddly with gloves on. I personally haven’t had much of a problem with battery on the 2+ either – I have a couple of spare batteries but mostly one lasts a day (even with GPS on). And the waterproof case is great!

      Basically I’m very sad to hear Contour are gone…

  • priap1sm

    Too bad. As a motorcyclist, those giant boxes on top of people’s helmets just looked so dumb. And people were always struggling to get those things working. For me at least, the Contour was a far better product.

  • Andy Wing-Kee Chan

    I need a cam with 360 mount and GPS, what other brands offer it?

  • Quincy

    I just bought a Contour and it’s a shame to the 2 companies could not have collaborated in some way. The Contour is far superior in its build, a glimmer of hope is still there.

  • Fixmycamera

    It mentions in your article that Mr Green holds an equity share in Contour. Could he please shed some light on the legal and financial position of the company and how warranties are going to be honoured. If the company is not formally bankrupt will the equity owners be refunding any claims made by camera owners under warranty?

  • wbarrettpowell

    I totally agree with Marc “that something so ugly could take over the market like a tidal wave.” Didn’t make sense to me either.

    Both products had similar video quality but the Contour just looked more “professional” and had a more streamlined profile. I just couldn’t bring myself to strapping a brick to my motorcycle helmet. Every time I see a GoPro on someone I just shake my head and silently say “Why?”

    But I guess everyone else knew better than me. I was on my second Contour, having sold my ContourGPS in favor of the Roam2 for simplicity and an all in one water resistant package.

    The video quality was epic. As the defacto videographer of our motorcycle riding group I had captured hours of group rides over the years. On one particular ride, I had the Contour strapped to the back of my back pointing backwards to capture the riders behind me. On this one ride one of our group took a swim in a somewhat large drainage ditch pond. Later review of the video showed I had caught the event in a huge 30 foot high splash of water behind me.

    Sad day indeed. Hope the brick doesn’t snap my head back in the wind…

  • Alexander B

    Why cant I download the storyteller software anymore. Really makes me mad that I cant change the settings on my camera. SUCKS :( :( :( :( :( :(

    • Adviser To Leaders

      Yeah, I’m in that situation as well. I got a 2+ at bargain basement prices, but I can’t seem to find the software or firmware update hosted ANYWHERE.

      Hopefully somebody still has the installer packages lying around somewhere that can shared online.

    • Anthony Hill

      You can still change settings through the mobile app!

  • M Shorey

    These guys were just geek in a garage and this is the start of a real company buying Contour and taking where it should go. It looks cool whereas GoPro looks silly on a helmet. The bullet shape will win out in the end.

  • skcyclist

    I bought a Contour because I preferred it’s appearance over “the box”. However, I’ve been disappointed with the software and sharing features. Frustrating at best, useless at worst. Now I hear they’re broke. No wonder. Their software designers must have gone to work for the Obamacare site.

  • Tonywill08

    How do I get storyteller now ?????