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Bootstrapping from Belgium: iText CEO Bruno Lowagie (Part 7)

Posted on Sunday, May 3rd 2015

Sramana Mitra: What about business strategy? Not every company can, by the nature of their business, grow to $500 million. That’s what the VCs are looking for. By the nature of your business, how big a business can you build?

Bruno Lowagie: If we continue what we are doing now, I don’t think we’re going to be a billion dollar business.

Sramana Mitra: How big a business can you build? $20 million? $50 million?

Bruno Lowagie: The target is to go to $20 million over the next two to three years.

Sramana Mitra: Then what?

Bruno Lowagie: We’ll see. That’s the default strategy. We could become a much larger company if we have a separate offering. In a survey last year, some of our existing customers said, “You are not expensive. If you charge more, we’ll still pay.” Another segment are saying, “You are too expensive.” We could go into competition with Adobe bringing PDF to the cloud. This way, we would address the needs of those users who say that we are too expensive. The reason why we didn’t execute on that yet is because it would require a completely different management team. It’s not as much a technical problem as it is a business and marketing problem. Technically we’re ready to bring iText in the cloud, but It’s not something that we could do on the side of what we’re doing today.

Additionally, we could grow to a $200 million business or maybe a $500 million business if we go for BPM solutions and ECM solutions.

Sramana Mitra: I think your iText business is very solid. I don’t think anybody’s taking that away from you. If you were to just stay with that strategy, is that an exit path or do you not want to exit?

Bruno Lowagie: Would Adobe buy me? I don’t think so. If Adobe acquires iText, they would lose an independent voice in the ISO committee. The PDF specification used to be copyrighted by Adobe, but Adobe brought it to the ISO, so it’s a standard now. Adobe still has a lot of influence on the ISO committee but they don’t want to have the name of being the company that drives everything. They’re very happy with iText because we take responsibility in the ISO process, in spite of the fact that we’re a small company. For instance, in the most recent ISO meetings, I took the lead for the part on digital signatures. We discuss things and if they acquire iText, they would lose that independence.

Sramana Mitra: Is there any acquirer then?

Bruno Lowagie: If I want to be acquired, I’d like to be acquired by companies that would be able to execute on this cloud idea. Google is already using the old version of iText in Google Spreadsheets and Google Calendar. We could easily integrate iText in a Google offering. Same with Oracle for instance.

Sramana Mitra: You want to partner with someone who knows how to run a business process cloud service?

Bruno Lowagie: We would not have to postpone the idea and that would save us a couple of years.

Sramana Mitra: I understand. Interesting. What about location? You have chosen to build this company in Belgium. Is that important to you or do you want to move out here?

Bruno Lowagie: It depends. We’re going for a ruling to have some tax exemptions. If we get these tax exemptions, it makes perfect sense to stay in Belgium. If the ruling doesn’t come through, it doesn’t matter where the company is incorporated. In that case, there’s no valid reason to stay in Belgium. Last week, we founded a company in Singapore. We have the owner of the IP in Belgium – ISA in Singapore, ISB in Belgium, and ISC in the States. It was a coincidence that the mother company was founded in Belgium.

Sramana Mitra: Right now, I don’t think any of these are issues except for your tax concern but if you try to raise money, then all these things are going to become issues.

Bruno Lowagie: Right now, we can do our own Series A.

Sramana Mitra: You don’t need to do anything as long as you’re executing on your core business plan of getting to $20 million. It’s great to see a Belgian entrepreneur. Thank you for your time.

This segment is part 7 in the series : Bootstrapping from Belgium: iText CEO Bruno Lowagie
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