How Contour helmet cameras went from business plan to successful company

Imagine you're a college student and you've just won $20,000 in an entrepreneurship contest. What would you do with the money? If you're like many college students, you might throw the mother of all keg parties, or maybe plan the most epic Spring Break trip ever. Or maybe you'd pay some bills, put some money in the bank or even dabble in the stock market.

Marc Barros had a different idea...and boy did it pay off.

Along with classmate Jason Green, Barros used the contest winnings to fund a company that builds helmet cameras. The industry was in its infancy in 2003, when Barros and Green won the prize money at the University of Washington. Today, helmet cameras are must-have accessories for skiers, snowboarders and enthusiasts of dozens of other sports. The company Barros and Green founded, now called Contour, is riding the global wave of social networking to incredible heights.

As the son of a Brazilian immigrant, Barros says he was always driven to work a little harder than the next guy -- and to do things a little different. In high school, when his friends were working for minimum wage during summer vacation, he ran soccer camps for local kids. "I kind of figured out I can make a soccer camp and for four weeks make more money than all my friends could getting a 9 to 5 job," Barros says.

Soccer, specifically, and sports generally, have always been a big part of Barros' life, and a big reason why he's been able to survive the often grueling life of a start-up CEO. "As an athlete you push your body and your mind far beyond where you think it could go and as an entrepreneur it's the same thing," he says.

From its humble beginnings -- in an empty warehouse with no heat -- Contour has already come a very long way. The company was ranked number seven in the Inc. 500 list of America's fastest-growing companies for 2011, up from 183 the prior year. Other accolades include separate "gadget of the year" awards from Time Magazine, Men's Health and Men's Journal, Outside Magazine 'Best of 2010' and a CES Innovations Award.

Contour's revenues topped $15 million last year, more than double the prior year, and Barros expects that growth rate to accelerate in 2012, forecasting revenues of $50 million this year. Did I mention they came in third-place in that U.W. contest? Barros seems to have it all right now: he's the CEO of a young, hot, fast-growing company. But building Contour was not easy. The company couldn't afford heat in the early days and Barros was forced to take a loan from his Uncle because no bank believed in the business, or its fresh-faced founders. When the financial crisis hit in 2008, Contour faced some very dark days. "The retailers were ordering...we were starting to sell the product and then the economy just tanked," Barros says. "We had to cut 5 people in the same day. That was one of the toughest days. We had to cut it down to enough we could survive."

Contour did survive (and thrive) but Barros lost his mother to cancer along the way. Recalling her 15-year battle with the disease, he cites his father as his biggest inspiration. "He just never gave up," he says. "He never let her quit, never let her have a down day and I think there's a lot of inspiration in that."

Judging by the success of Contour and the growing ubiquity of helmet cameras on ski slopes around the world, a lot of people are, in turn, being inspired by Barros.


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Video produced by Scott Fraser and Jessica Ashford. Production by Michael Manas, Tommy Morquecho, Ricky Montalvo, Victor Velazquez, Jessie Carter. Edited by Ryan Fritzsche. Graphics by Todd Tanner For Yahoo! Studios. Executive Producers: Russ Torres and Peter Gorenstein.