He invented the YouTube-ready camera — and sold a million

By Candice Krieger, June 6, 2008

When you next view a video on YouTube or Facebook, you may well be watching Jonathan Kaplan’s technology business expand its reach. His privately owned company, Pure Digital Technologies, has developed a new pocket-sized digital camcorder, which comes with built-in software that connects directly to a personal computer or Mac for instant video uploading.

Almost a million Flips have been sold in the US

Sales in the United States — where the Flip was launched 12 months ago — are approaching one million, and the company commands a 13 per cent market share, second only to Sony. It has been the number-one-selling camcorder on Amazon.com since its release and counts Oprah Winfrey among its fans. Yet Mr Kaplan has even greater ambitions for the UK, where the Flip goes on sale on Monday. “We have achieved this rapid growth [in the US] in less than a year,” he says. “Our plans are to surpass that.” US-born Mr Kaplan, 39, explains: “We believe the market for the video camcorder has been stagnant for the past ten years and the reason for that is that the camcorders that are out there are very big and very bulky — they are complicated and designed for a different consumer.” What Mr Kaplan, a technology entrepreneur, wants to do is make it easier for people to record and share videos online. “There are SLR cameras and there and point-and-shoot cameras. They sell about ten times more point-and-shoot cameras than they do SLR cameras, which are for more professional photographers. The same is true in video. There are video camcorders for the more professional videographers and then there is the Flip for everybody else.” He is confident that the Flip will be a success in the UK. “So far, our research has shown that the UK is very interested in what we are doing.” He estimates the global market for a product such as the Flip is around 100 million units. Founded by Mr Kaplan in 2001, Pure Digital — credited with making the world’s first disposable digital cameras — creates still-photo and video products for mass-market consumers. The company has secured backing from some of the world’s top technology investors, including Sequoia Capital, the backers of Google, LinkedIn and YouTube. It is also backed by Steamboat Ventures, the venture-capital arm of the Walt Disney Company. Perhaps unsurprising, then, that Mr Kaplan believes his company, which employs around 80 people and has offices in both San Francisco and London, is on its way to becoming a multi-billion-dollar consumer-electronics company. Priced at £99, the Flip is being stocked in PC World, Amazon.com, and Toys“R”US. Mr Kaplan’s plan is to open the doors to an expanding demographic. “Pure Digital, through its distribution, is actively targeting mums looking to capture everyday moments simply and upload them on YouTube.” He believes that making camcorders internet-friendly is going to be a huge trend. Rivals such as Sony and JVC are bringing out competitive products. “They are all inferior,” he claims. “What makes our technology so good is our technology, and none of these other companies have that. “We will continue to advance ourselves and they will continue to advance against us. That’s the consumer-electronics world.” Prior to Pure Digital, Mr Kaplan owned technology company FamilyWonder, a family-entertainment media company, which he sold to Sega in 2000. He says: “My interest is in consumers and finding ways to create better experiences for them.” Pure Digital’s next target is mobile phones and enabling consumers to transfer photos or videos taken on a mobile phone onto viewable DVDs. He also has plans to make the Flip smaller, higher-quality, easier to use and more affordable. But in the current market, will people still spend money on the Flip? “I think they will. We are an inexpensive product. At £99, I think we offer the consumer a chance to capture lifetime memories very inexpensively. I think the people who are going to suffer most are those selling products that are £200 of £300, because the consumer might think, ‘Oh, let’s wait another six months or a year and see how the economy is doing.’” Asked where he sees the opportunities for aspiring entrepreneurs, he says: “My aim is to try and solve consumer challenges and I can’t think of any area at the moment more frustrating than video-camcorders. People buy them, spend a lot of money on them and never use them. Then they wait three more years, buy another one and think that’s going to be better. So, we saw this as a good area to focus on. “But other entrepreneurs might find that they think a fish-and-chips place isn’t the place they wished it was, and decide to open up a restaurant chain. People just need to find their passion.” Mr Kaplan lives in San Francisco with his wife Marci Glazer and their daughter Samantha.

Last updated: 2:13pm, August 22 2008