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GoPro CEO: Surfing trip made me a billionaire

The big turning point for GoPro was allowing users to flip the video camera on themselves, the founder of the mountable, action video camera company told CNBC Thursday, on the day the stock made its Wall Street debut.

"The first GoPro was really just a wrist camera to capture my friends surfing," GoPro's Nicholas Woodman said in a "Squawk Box" interview, calling it "the original selfie: the engaging, immersive, that is incredible selfie."

"It took a few years to realize that there are a lot more people in the world that want to capture themselves doing want they want, what they love to do, their passions and interests, than there are that want to capture other people," he said.

(Watch the entire Woodman interview in the above video for his thoughts on the one thing all successful entrepreneurs share. For excerpts click here on how his wife's fashion sense helped raise seed money, and here for why he doesn't like taking bathroom breaks when he works.)

Shares of GoPro were priced Wednesday night at $24 a share—the high end of the estimated range, valuing the company at nearly $3 billion. The stock opened at $28.65 a share on heavy volume and went over $30 in midday trading.

GoPro is the first consumer-electronic company to go public since the 2011 debut of headphones maker Skullcandy.

The IPO structure allowed for Woodman and others to sell small stakes into the offering. "I will still roughly own a third of the company when this is done." He said he wanted to reward his employees for their years of sacrifice. "It's been around for 12 years now. I call it a 12-year, overnight success."

It all started when Woodman, at 22, gave himself until 30 to make it as an entrepreneur. Four years and one failed business later, he decided to take his savings and go on a five-month surfing trip around Australia and Indonesia for inspiration.

But before he even left, Woodman stumbled upon what would become the idea behind GoPro.

"In preparation for that trip, I had this idea for a wrist camera that I could surf with to document my friends and I on the trip," he reflected. "The irony was this trip was meant to inspire me for my next business and I had my business idea before I even left."

While at the core GoPro makes cameras, Woodman see his company much more broadly. "We think we are a content-enabling company."

"Our customers are uploading to YouTube alone over 6,000 videos a day, tagged, titled, described as GoPro," he added. "We make it easy for passionate people around the world to capture and share life experiences in the form of compelling content."

Some of the extreme sports athletes who've endorsed the cameras, which cost between $199 and $399, are Olympic gold medal winning snowboarder Shaun White and 11-time world champion surfer Kelly Slater.

Video from GoPro cameras are also common place on many TV networks, including CNBC.

The production team from "The Secret Lives of the Super Rich" have been using them to capture some of the rarest and most expensive moments, giving viewers a feel for what's it's like behind the wheel of a $4 million Lamborghini, a $7.5 million helicopter, and a $1.7 million underwater jet.

Woodman said GoPro's rabid user base is the reason his company won't be supplanted by bigger companies that might want a piece of his action. "It's a snowball of word-of-mouth, consumer-endorsed promotion that becomes increasing difficult to compete with with each new customer we bring one."

GoPro grew up in the age of the smartphone, unlike its predecessors like the Flip Video, which Cisco bought for nearly $600 million in 2009 and stopped selling two years later. Woodman said that smartphones won't take the place of GoPro cameras because they can work together via apps.

"We [also] have the vision of a GoPro network, 'The world brought to you, by you' type of content, captured by our passionate customers around the world and shared on a GoPro-like platform that we distribute across a series of GoPro channels. ... It's just fabulous to see what the world is up to," he said.

"So whether you watch your content on Xbox 360 or Xbox 1, there will be a GoPro channel for you to watch. Whether it's Apple TV or Roku, there's a GoPro. Whether you're flying across country on Virgin American airlines, you can watch the GoPro channel," he said.

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—By CNBC's Matthew J. Belvedere. Reuters contributed to this report.

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