Slides for the book presentation of "Entreprenerd: Building a Multi-Million-Dollar Business with Open Source Software" in which Bruno Lowagie tells the story about how he developed the open source PDF library iText, how he created an international group of companies for the project, and how he grew the business from start-up to exit.
At the age of twelve, I wrote my first lines of code on a Texas Instruments computer. Two years later, I developed my first small business using a Tandy Radio Shack portable. I created my own database system that allowed me to produce pre-printed address labels that I sold to different organizations in my hometown.
I met my wife, Ingeborg, in college, but I didn’t know we’d start a business together many years later.
The start of my career was rather bumpy. I switched jobs three times in two years’ time. I started many projects on the side that didn’t amount to anything. The Belgium Applet failed due to bad timing. I didn’t find a market for my Perl Server Pages. Cat@loogje.com wasn’t original. It was rip-off of an existing website.
I didn’t find my project. My project found me. While working at Ghent University, I promised that I would enhance an intranet application with on-the-fly PDF creation. Little did I know that I would have to write my own PDF library to keep that promise. It was called rugPdf, where RUG refers to the abbreviation of Rijksuniversiteit Gent, the now obsolete name of Ghent University.
My employer was happy with the rugPdf, but I wasn’t. I knew that I could do better. I rewrote the library from scratch in my spare time. iText was born.
The title of part two is Building Free and Open Source Software.
In the first chapter, I introduce the concept of Free Software. I talk about Richard Stallman, GNU and the Free Software Foundation. In the next chapter, I explain how Open Source came about with the Open Source Initiative started by Eric Raymond and Bruce Perens. When I released my first open source projects in 1999 and 2000, free and open source software was far from mainstream
Large corporations were spreading FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt) because they saw Free and Open Source Software as a threat to their own business.
I had to admit that three allegations about FOSS were true for iText: The software wasn’t documented. I solved that by writing a book. The IP of the software wasn’t clear. I solved this by doing a thorough IP review. There is no company backing the software. I solved this by creating one. While starting a company is easy, generating revenue isn’t, certainly not for something that is perceived as a free resource.
In the chapter “monetizing open source”, I explain which business models can work if you want to generate revenue with open source software.
Part two ends in 2012. iText has 7 employees, a revenue of 3.1M euro and an EBITDA of 1.4M euro.
In part three, I discuss the strategies Ingeborg and I used to grow the business from start-up to exit.
I don’t read many business books, but The Founder’s Dilemmas by Noam Wasserman, helped me understand that the decisions Ingeborg and I had been making qualified as “control decisions”. We had full ownership and full control over the companies, but we noticed that this was reducing our chances to grow. If we wanted to realize the full potential of the business, we would have to switch to making wealth decision. We did a short M&A project to find out what we needed to make our company investor ready. This resulted in a business plan with a clear strategy for iText. We reorganized our companies, and we installed a board of directors.
Our efforts paid off. In 2014, we won the Belgian edition of Deloitte’s Technology Fast 50. We also won the BelCham Entrepreneurship award, several Bronze Stevies in the American Business Awards, Silver in the International Business Awards, and we were National Champion for Belgium in the European Business Awards three years in a row.
In 2014, we also started a second M&A project, codenamed Wall Street.
This resulted in a partial exit in December 2015. We sold three quarters of our shares to a South-Korean vendor of productivity software.
I signed a three year commitment after the exit. In three chapters, I explain how we search for synergies in the first year, changed our strategy in the second year, and we had a change in management in the third year that eventually caused a dispute. I went to court against the majority shareholder and I sold the remainder of my shares in March 2020.
With Entreprenerd, I wanted to write the book that I wish I could have read at the start of my career as a technical founder.
If you’re a technical founder,
That’s why I wrote Entreprenerd. Check out entreprenerd Lowagie com for more information about the book.
Entreprenerd: presenting the book
Building a Multi-Million-Dollar Business
with Open Source Software
I am Bruno Lowagie
And I am an Entreprenerd
My wife and I founded iText Group (2008), a company
with subsidiaries in Belgium (2010), the US (2009), and
Together, we grew the business from the pre-revenue
startup phase to an eight-figure exit (2015 – 2018 -2020)
I developed Free and Open Source Software:
iText, a FOSS PDF library (2000)
Building a Multi-Million-Dollar Business
with Open Source Software
The Belgium Applet
Perl Server Pages
PDF PDF Library
In 1998, I promised my employer that I would
enhance an intranet application with on-the-fly
BUILDING FREE AND
OPEN SOURCE SOFTWARE
The History of Free and Open Source Software
Creating a Business for iText
Richard Stallman and the
GNU Manifesto, the GPL,
and the Free Software
HISTORY OF FREE AND OPEN SOURCE SOFTWARE
Eric Raymond, Bruce
Perens and the Open
Free and Open Source Software (FOSS)
1999: rugPdf (LGPL): Usenet / hosted on University website
2000: iText (MPL/LGPL): SourceForge / lowagie.com
MY ANSWER TO THE FUD
Writing a book is
good marketing for
Review the IP of
your software and
fix every possible
Create a company
for your product,
Commercial open source software is the best
guarantee for the production of software that
is useful, innovative, and of high quality, and
at the same time sustainable, accessible, and
FROM START-UP TO EXIT
Strategies to Grow the Business and Prepare for an Exit
THE FOUNDER’S DILEMMAS
Ingeborg and I owned 100% of the shares, and
we were making a nice revenue.
We had full control over the companies, but
we noticed that this was reducing our chances
In 2012, we started an M&A project to find out
what we needed to do to make our company
“investor-ready” and maybe sell the business.
This was a very interesting exercise that resulted
in a business plan with a clear strategy for iText.
Fastest Growing Technology Company
BelCham Entrepreneurship Award, American Business Awards,
International Business Awards, European Business Awards,…
AFTER THE PARTIAL EXIT
◦ Year 1—A Search for Synergies
◦ Year 2—A Change of Strategy
◦ Year 3—A Change in Management
Eventually: Exit Through the Courtroom.
I wanted to write the book that I wish I could have read
at the start of my career as a technical founder.
Know what to expect when starting a company
to generate the revenue necessary to further
develop your technology.
Learn from someone who shows you what he
did and how he did it, rather than from someone
merely telling you what to do.
Get acquanted with the terminology that is
needed to understand customers, sales people,
accountants, investors, lawyers…