Posted on Monday, Aug 30th 2021
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iText CEO Bruno Lowagie bootstrapped a highly profitable company from Belgium. Since our conversation in 2015, iText was acquired by ThinkFree in 2018.
Sramana Mitra: Where are you from? Bruno Lowagie: I’m from Belgium. Sramana Mitra: I’m married to a Belgian. Were you born and raised in Belgium? Bruno Lowagie: Yes, I was born in Ypres, which is in the west of Flanders. I lived there until I was 18. I went to college in Gent. I met Ingeborg there. Sramana Mitra: You’re co-founders? Bruno Lowagie: Yes. We married there. Sramana Mitra: How about you? Are you from Gent? Bruno Lowagie: No, I’m also from the west of Flanders. Bruno Lowagie: It’s really small. It’s a very rural area. Sramana Mitra: What did you do after college? Bruno Lowagie: I studied Civil Engineering and Architecture but I had my first computer at the age of 12. It was a Texas Instruments 99/4A. I wrote my first computer program at the age of 12. You could only store programs on a cassette deck. I don’t know if people remember but you had this cassette deck with strange sounds. At the age of 13, I had my first personal computer, a TRS -80 4P. It was my first portable. It was bigger than my mother’s sewing machine. Sramana Mitra: You were tinkering with computers very early on? Bruno Lowagie: Yes. Software was very expensive so I wrote my own word processing software. In my vacations, I went to the library. There weren’t any books about programming, but there were books about language. I programmed the hyphenation rules in my word processors. Sramana Mitra: So you’re a real nerd? Bruno Lowagie: Yes. I even had my first experience as an entrepreneur. I wrote a database system and because I didn’t have anything to put in the database, I went to all these social organizations and said, “Can I have your membership list?” They gave me their membership lists and I filled my database with them. I returned them with printed labels because in ’84 when they wanted to mail something to their members, they’d have to write everything by hand. I gave them a set of free labels and so they used them. A couple of weeks later, they said, “Can we have some more?” I said, “Yes, but these labels aren’t free.” That was my first business venture. Sramana Mitra: What year did you graduate from college? Bruno Lowagie: I graduated in 1995. Sramana Mitra: With an architecture and civil engineering background? Bruno Lowagie: Yes. Sramana Mitra: Did you practice? Bruno Lowagie: No, I did a vacation job halfway in my studies. I discovered that being an architect wasn’t for me. It took me seven years to get the diploma because I was constantly doing other stuff. My focus wasn’t on civil engineering anymore.
Ingeborg graduated one year earlier than me. She wasn’t employed and she got an invitation from the unemployment service. They had a one-year internship. It was five months of theory and seven months of practice but you had to clear an examination to enter the program. I was ranked the second out of 300 candidates and I wasn’t selected because they said I committed fraud. I had gone in Ingeborg’s place. I said, “How is this possible? I’m the second. Why don’t you admit me?” They admitted me anyway.
The five months was an internship for GIS IT engineers. GIS was my cup of tea. One part of my internship was teaching the next batch of students. That was 1996. For instance, I’d ask, “How much time do I get if I want to teach two weeks of Java?” Java existed only in 1995. So they gave me three weeks to study Java. During those two weeks, I taught people how to write Java. That was fun. It was like going back to what I did as a 14-year-old. That’s really what I wanted to do.
Sramana Mitra: Ingeborg, are you also an architect? Bruno Lowagie: No. In spite of the fact that she’s a constructional engineer, we did our master’s thesis together. We were the forbidden couple because an architect and a constructional engineer don’t match or that was how students thought about it. Our thesis was about bridging the gap between engineering and architecture. We wrote the same book but she got a lower grade than I did because the architects accepted that we should also look at constructional aspects, but the constructional engineers didn’t like the fact that we said, “If a constructional engineer builds a bridge, it’s decent but it’s awful.” Our thesis was we should get these two together. It was a fun thesis.
Our conversation continues
here. This segment is a part in the series : Best of Bootstrapping . Bootstrapping to an Exit . Why is Bootstrapping Important? . How Can You Play this Low-Probability Game Intelligently? . Do NOT Go to VCs as Beggars - Go as Kings . Excess is NOT Required for Success . Bootstrap First and Raise Money Later . Some Bootstrapping to Exit Case Studies . The Buy Side of Bootstrapping to an Exit . Blitzscaling vs. Bootstrapping . Bootstrapping to Unicorns More »» . Cinedigm Acquires Bootstrapped 1Mby1M Company Future Today for $60 Million . Mailchimp Bootstraps to $600M Revenue . Bootstrapping from Arizona to $10 Million . Bootstrapped Basecamp Executes a No Nonsense Strategy . How Under30Experiences Bootstrapped to $5 Million . Bootstrapping with a Paycheck . How Algo.ai CEO Amjad Hussain Bootstrapped using Services from Michigan . Seed Investors Who Like Bootstrapped Businesses . How iHeartRaves CEO Bootstrapped a Niche e-Commerce Company to $20 Million . Bootstrapping with Services . How The Intern Group CEO David Lloyd Bootstrapped to $13 Million . How Passageways CEO Paroon Chadha Bootstrapped from Indiana . How SmartBuyGlasses CEO David Menning Bootstrapped to $50 Million . Death by Overfunding . How RainmakerForce CEO Mack Sundaram Bootstrapped Decisively to $5 Million+ . How FormAssembly CEO Bootstrapped a Virtual Company with a Paycheck . TimeSlips CEO Mitch Russo Bootstrapped to Exit with Sage . The VC-Entrepreneur Compensation Disbalance . BioConnect CEO Bootstraps with Sophisticated Strategic Maneuvering . Tremend CEO Marius Hanganu Bootstraps from Romania . Gesture CEO Jim Alvarez Bootstraps to $10 Million . SproutLoud CEO Bootstraps to $30 Million from Florida . Tuft & Needle CEO Bootstraps to Over $100 Million . Co-founders Bootstrap Linguamatics to Over $10M from the UK . Ownership Matters . Vainu Co-founder Mikko Honkanen Bootstraps from Finland . Entrepreneur Couple Bootstraps to $10M from Colorado . 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Bay Dynamics Co-founders Bootstrapped Using Services . Building an AI Software Company from Dallas . RJMetrics Co-founders Bootstrapped First, Raised $22M Later . Bootstrapping Niche E-Commerce Business BuyAutoParts to Exit . TemplateMonster was Bootstrapped to $15 Million . Bootstrapping Edge Hosting to $18 Million . Bootstrapping, Fund Raising and Exiting with Sefaira . Bootstrapping IdeaScale to $5M from Scratch . Bootstrapping to $10M from Finland . Happy Grasshopper CEO Dan Stewart Bootstrapped to Inflection . Bootstrapping Gravity Pro Using Services . Founder Builds Multiple Bootstrapped Education Software Companies . Bootstrapping to $10M from Australia, Raising $25M from the US . Bootstrapped Y Soft to $30M from the Czech Republic . Bootstrapped from Belarus, Raised Money from Silicon Valley . Bootstrapped SproutLoud to $30M from Florida . Bootstrapped 2600Hz Using Services . A Serial Bootstrapping Entrepreneur’s Journey . 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