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Best of Bootstrapping: iText was Bootstrapped from Belgium

Posted on Monday, Aug 30th 2021

If you haven’t already, please study our Bootstrapping Course and Investor Introductions page. 

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
. 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
. Power2Motivate CEO Bootstraps to $80M from Canada
. Financial DNA CEO Bootstraps to $10M+ from Australia
. Big Barker CEO Bootstraps a Niche E-commerce Brand
. PrecisionLender CEO Bootstraps to Over $10M from North Carolina
. Master Bootstrappers with Over $1B in Exits
. Ultra Mobile Founder Bootstraps to Over $100 Million
. Bootstrapping a Two-Sided Marketplace to $10M
. Can You Bootstrap a Virtual Company to Over $5 Million?
. Capital Efficient Entrepreneurs Turn $1M into $80M
. Discussing the Journey Through Failure to Success
. From a Small Town to $12 Million
. Bootstrapping to Y Combinator and $10 Million Series A
. Bootstrapping a Marketplace to Over $10 Million
. Freightwise Bootstraps to $33 Million
. Bootstraps First to $5M ARR, Raises $10M Later
. Bootstraps in Europe, Raises Money and Goes Global in the US
. English Major Bootstraps a Tech Company
. Bootstraps with a Paycheck to $15M from Tennessee
. Queue-It Bootstraps from Denmark to the US
. Bootstrapping A Virtual Company To $25M
. ActiveCampaign CEO Bootstraps Using Services to $40M
. Alteryx Bootstrapped with Services to a Public Unicorn
. Inspyrus Bootstraps Using Services to an Awesome Business Model
. CEO Bootstraps Using Services to Millions from Russia
. Wiredrive CEO Bootstraps Using Services to $10M
. Scaling to Over $10M by Bootstrapping Using Services
. Bootstraps Using Services from Poland to a US SaaS Company
. ButcherBox CEO Bootstraps a Perishable Meat Business to Significant Scale
. Waveform CEO Bootstraps to $8M
. Bootstrapped Entrepreneurship from Estonia
. From Laid-off Engineer to Successful Startup CEO
. Imagine Easy Solutions CEO Bootstraps to Exit
. BannerBuzz CEO Bootstraps to $35M
. Bootstrapping a Virtual Company to Scale
. Bootstrapping Using Services from Wisconsin
. Best Tactic for B2B Startups
. Bootstrapping by Piggybacking from Romania
. Bootstrap First, Then Scale with VC Funds
. Bootstrap to +$10M First, Raise Money Later
. Madwire CEO Bootstrapped First, Raised Money Later to $120M
. Bootstrap Using Services First, Raise Money Later
. Wonderful Bootstrap with a Paycheck Story
. RushOrderTees CEO Bootstraps to $23M
. Bootstrapping with Freemium and Free Trials to $13M
. Bootstrapping, Pivoting, Gaining Liquidity, Scaling to $100M+
. Bootstrapping with Affiliate Marketing
. Bootstrap to Exit, Bootstrap Again, Then Raise VC Money
. Bootstrapping Using Services to $12M
. Bootstrapping an Ad Tech Company from Paris
. Bootstrapping a 100% Virtual Company from Ireland
. MiQ CEO Bootstraps with Services from London
. Bootstrapping to $8M During the Covid Crisis
. Bootstrapping a Marketplace from Brazil
. Bootstrapping Using Services from Sweden
. What Should Startups Do To Raise Seed Capital in 2021?
. EdTech Unicorn Bootstrapped First from Canada
. Coalition Technologies Co-founders Bootstrap to $10M
. Bootstrapping a Virtual Company to $10M from Atlanta
. Bootstrapping a SaaS Company with a Paycheck and Scaling
. Bootstrapping with Services to $20 Million
. Onit CEO Bootstraps First, Raises Money Later
. Pura Vida Founders Bootstrap to $130M
. Lawline CEO Bootstraps to $10M
. Bootstrapping a Technology Product Company from India
. Codesigned CEO Bootstraps Using Services
. Rukkus CEO Follows Bootstrap First, Raise Money Later Strategy
. Bootstrapping and Managing a Successful Pivot
. Ukrainian Entrepreneur Bootstraps to Global Scale
. Bootstrapping a Niche E-Commerce Venture
. Bootstrapping Planon to $100M from The Netherlands
. Co-founder Bootstrapped with a Paycheck from Indiana
. Bootstrapping an Education Company
. Bootstrapping an IoT Company from North Carolina
. Serial Bootstrapper Bootstraps to $27M
. Bootstrapping Identity Automation Using Services from Houston
. Bootstrapping ProjectManager.com from NZ, Scaling in the US
. Bootstrapping to $15M in Three Years
. Peruvian Entrepreneur Bootstraps to $200M
. JotForm Founder Bootstrapped with a Paycheck
. WeGoLook was Bootstrapped from Oklahoma
. Bootstrapping AutoClaims Direct to $15M
. Meltwater Founder Bootstrapped to $200M
. Bootstrapping to $20M From London
. Synechron CEO Bootstrapped to $300M
. Unique Vintage was Bootstrapped with a Paycheck
. Toptal CEO Bootstraps a Virtual Company to Scale
. Bootstrapping to $45M from Chicago
. Vacasa Co-founder Bootstrapped to $100M
. Bootstrapping Infinitely Virtual All The Way
. Bootstrapping to Exit Discussion with David Lambert, Right Side Capital Management
. Bootstrapping a Healthcare IT Company to $100M
. Discussing Seed Rounds with Cindy Padnos, Illuminate Ventures
. Auction.com Bootstrapped to $180M in Online Real Estate
. Discussing the Silicon Valley – India Corridor with Naren Gupta of Nexus Venture Partners
. Bootstrapped with a Paycheck to Techstars and Acquisition
. Discussing People vs. Market with Jon Staenberg, Staenberg Venture Partners
. Bootstrapping a Highly Profitable Company in Social Media Marketing
. Discussing Investments in Indian Startups with Anand Daniel, Accel Partners
. Bootstrapping an Evergreen Business from Oregon
. Discussing Startups in Africa with Osayi Igharo, Ripple VC
. Investing in Concept Stage Startups with Matt Holleran, Cloud Apps Capital Partners
. Serial Entrepreneur Bootstrapped Two Startups to Huge Revenue
. Discussing Investment Strategy With Deepak Jeevankumar, Dell Technologies Capital
. Bootstrapping Hotelplanner.com to $20M with Intelligent Financial Engineering
. Discussing Investing Across Sectors in India with Swapna Gupta, Qualcomm Ventures
. Bootstrapping Cleverbridge From Germany
. Discussing Open Opportunities with Hemant Mohapatra, Lightspeed Venture Partners
. Bootstrapping E-commerce Company Fun.com
. Discussing Seed Rounds with Bruce Cleveland, Wildcat Venture Partners
. From Friends and Family Funding to $30M Exit
. Discussing the Evolution of the Indian Startup Industry with Sasha Mirchandani, Kae Capital
. Lean Company Bootstraps to $7M
. Saatva Co-founder Bootstrapped a $25M E-Commerce Company
. Looking at Terms with Heidi Roizen of Threshold Ventures
. ADDA Co-founder CEO Bootstrapped with a Paycheck in India
. Duda Co-founders Bootstrap with Paychecks
. The Importance of Building Value with Shomit Ghose, Onset Ventures
. Get Real Health Founder Bootstrapped Using Services
. Bootstrapping Unique Vintage Using a Paycheck
. Discussing E-commerce Startup Trends with Daniel Gulati, Forecast Fund
. Bootstrapping a Digital Startup with a Paycheck
. Discussing Seed Stages with Amir Banifatemi of K5 Ventures
. Bootstrapping Avelead Using Services from Atlanta
. Founder Bootstrapped a Big Data Company Using Services
. Discussing Future Unicorns with Warren Weiss, Foundation Capital
. Founder Bootstrapped Axosoft with a Paycheck
. Raised a Series A with $10 Million in the Bank
. Discussing Unicorn Investments with Ravi Mohan of Shasta Ventures
. Bootstrapping a $7M Company in Houston
. A View into Pre-Seed Funding with Gaurav Jain, Afore Capital
. Bootstrapping to $13M in Niche E-commerce
. Discussing European Startup Funding with Alastair Mitchell, EQT Ventures
. Founder Bootstrapped Category Leading E-commerce Company Shoplet
. Discussing Trends With Yanev Suissa, SineWave Ventures
. Founder Mark Organ Bootstrapped Eloqua and Crowdfunded Influitive
. Sourcing Global Ventures with Ann Winblad of Hummer Winblad
. JAM CEO Survives Covid with a Bootstrapped Venture
. E-commerce and Investing with Tod Francis, Shasta Ventures
. How An Entrepreneur Couple Bootstrapped RuffleButts To $5M
. TextMe Founders Bootstrapped an App to $10M
. Bootstrapped Journey of a Child Entrepreneur in India
. Discussing Alternatives to Traditional Venture Capital with Bryce Roberts, Indie.vc
. Solo Founder Bootstrapped Wingify to $7 Million in India
. Co-founder Bootstrapped a SaaS Company in India
. Bootstrapped MindTouch to $12M+ and Exit
. Mobiliya Technologies was Bootstrapped Using Services
. What Traditional VCs are Looking for with Scott Sandell, NEA
. Bootstrapped Srishti Software Applications with Services from India
. How Robust SaaS Company RateGain was Bootstrapped from India
. Bootstrapped eGroup to $20M in Charleston, South Carolina
. Gravitant CEO Bootstrapped Using Services to $15M in Venture Capital
. CEO Bootstrapped Sitecore Using Services from Denmark
. Co-founder Dan Hermann on Bootstrapping Paint Nite
. Founder Krishna Kumar Bootstrapped App Orchid Using Services
. Bootstrapping a Web Hosting Company to $60M
. Bootstrapping CloudSense with Services on Force.com from London
. Bootstrapped Book E-Commerce Business BookPal
. Student Entrepreneurs Bootstrapped a Zero-Logistics E-Commerce Company to $19M
. Bootstrapped to a High Growth Inc. 500 Company
. Bootstrapping Using Services and Scaling Using Content Marketing
. Bootstrapped from London, Went Public and Scaled to $450M
. Bootstrapped Credit Card Processing Business Payscape
. Bootstrapped TEOCO to $175M with Services
. InRule Was Bootstrapped Using Services
. HighQ was Bootstrapped Using Services from London
. Ingenious Med was Bootstrapped with a Paycheck from Atlanta
. Bootstrapped VistaVu to $10M from Canada
. OnSIP CEO Mike Oeth Bootstrapped in Pennsylvania
. Pramata Founder Bootstrapped in Minnesota
. Conversocial was Bootstrapped Using Services from London
. Zephyr Health Bootstrapped First, Raised Money Later
. iText was Bootstrapped from Belgium
. CTO Bootstrapped InteliSecure Using Services from Colorado
. Bootstrapping Evariant Using Services
. Dave Elkington Bootstrapped Billion Dollar Unicorn InsideSales.com Using Services from Utah
. PMG Founders Bootstrapped Using Services from Atlanta
. Ensighten Founder Bootstrapped First, Raised Money Later
. Bootstrapping LittleThings First, Raising Money Later
. Bootstrapping eMazzanti Technologies Using Services
. Reltio Founder Bootstrapped Using Services
. Co-founders Bootstrapped Ateb Using Services from North Carolina
. Bootstrapped HireVue While in School, Raised Money Later, All in Utah
. Bootstrapping the First Venture, Raising Money for the Second
. Co-founders Bootstrapped BeenVerified with Angel Money
. Bootstrapping a Significant Software Company from Australia
. Bootstrapping Meltwater to $200 Million
. Bootstrapping Casewise from London and Scaling in the US
. Bootstrapping Lessons Learned by FairWarning Founder Kurt Long
. Abacus Group Founder Bootstrapped a Virtualization Services Company

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