Three things that could derail GoPro

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Earlier this week I offered some reasons GoPro could be a game changer. It's rare for a hardware company to reach $1 billion in annual sales, as the camera-maker just has; it's even more rare for a company of that size to make a profit (as GoPro also does).

The question now is whether founder and CEO Nick Woodman can successfully expand the company from here. GoPro cameras are a hit within the niche action sports community, and they've begun to catch on in what's called the pro-sumer category: that narrow middle ground between consumers and professionals where tinkerers and geeks pay a premium for high quality.

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So what could keep GoPro from fulfilling its potential? Three things, mainly:

1. The lack of software and hardware platforms.

One of GoPro's biggest advantages right now is its accessories. These mounts, cases and related items make it easier to capture footage in the way you want, whether that means mounting it to a crossbow, a surfboard or a Honda. GoPro's even grown popular enough that there's a homegrown community of tinkerers who are making their own GoPro add-ons. Visitors to the annual National Association of Broadcasters have been picking them out.

GoPro CEO: Enabling incredible content
GoPro CEO: Enabling incredible content

This is nice, but it's probably not the best long-term strategy. What GoPro needs is a program like Apple's "Made for iPod" where the company gives its seal of approval to accessories that meet its standards for quality. As part of the program, GoPro could offer early and accurate information about the details of its latest cameras and cases so that accessory-makers can build healthy businesses.

GoPro would have to do this carefully, because accessories today provide a nice, high-margin revenue stream for the company. But done right, a hardware platform strategy will bring outside innovation to the GoPro market, and have people using the cameras who otherwise wouldn't have.

Even more important is a software platform. Right now if you want to use your phone as a remote for a GoPro, that means using the GoPro app. (It's nifty, but limited.) Why not release software hooks that make it easier for third-party software makers like Adobe, Google and Apple to control a GoPro from inside their own applications? A disciplined software strategy would allow GoPro to bring new features to its die-hard professional audience without overcomplicating the cameras themselves.

Another key benefit: It would provide a gigantic moat around GoPro's market share. Once GoPro users set up a software workflow to get things done, they'll be far less likely to switch to a rival camera with inferior support.

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If the company fails to adopt a platform approach, one (or both) of two things will happen. A competitor will do it and challenge GoPro far more quickly than it otherwise could, or GoPro sales will plateau because its limited staff is unable to innovate as quickly as its customers demand.

2. Good/better/best will run its course.

Right now, GoPro really has one core product: the Hero3+ Black Edition. The other two cameras on the roster (the Silver and White editions) are diluted versions of it. The only reason to buy White or Silver is that you don't feel like shelling out the full $400 for the Black Edition, which does higher-quality video and photos, and allows more pro-level tweaks.

GoPro looks 'slightly inflated right now': Pro
GoPro looks 'slightly inflated right now': Pro

This good/better/best approach made a lot of sense when GoPro was in its earliest stages, because it keeps costs under control and allows a focus on quality. At this point GoPro's engineers are really designing just one camera, and later the marketing department chops it into three versions.

As the company looks to grow, though, this strategy will run its course. Ideally, a couple of years from now GoPro won't just be selling a diluted high-end Black Edition camera for $200 and calling it White Edition; it will have a great $200 product with a lower build cost, higher margins and a higher level of simplicity that appeals to teens and tweens. Remember what Apple did with the iPod nano and shuffle, then the iPod touch? That's what GoPro needs to do here.

If GoPro doesn't take the risk of developing a product to address the large, lower end of the market, it will face pressure to dumb down its professional-level cameras to address the masses. That will anger its core audience and hurt the brand.

3. The media strategy.

For some reason GoPro decided around the time of its IPO to push the idea that it can be a media company—as if that's a good thing. (Only in 2014 would a technology company try to position itself as a media company.)

There's a problem with this: Media companies are a mess. It requires a ton of capital investment to produce great content, and even when you do, sometimes it doesn't deliver the profits it should.

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GoPro's current strategy of using online media as a viral marketing tool for its hardware is working very well. We see pro-quality video of baby seals jumping onto surfboards, realize that regular joes shot it with their GoPros and how can we resist buying one?

There's a big difference between serving up user-generated content and becoming a media company, though. And GoPro probably would do well to pour its energy into the tough but lucrative problems above that it's uniquely positioned to solve, and leave the media strategizing to no-talent hacks like me.

—By CNBC's Jon Fortt