Bruno lowagie was born in Ypres (Belgium) in the year 1970. He graduated as a civil architectural engineer in 1995 (Ghent University). Bruno is the original developer of iText, the author of several books about iText, and the founder of iText Group, Wil-Low BV and QLT BV. For a full account of his career of twenty-five years in information technology, read the book Entreprenerd: Building a Multi-Million-Dollar Business with Open Source Software.
iText: iText is an open source PDF library available in Java and C#, under either an AGPL or a commercial license. It is a software component (a PDF engine) that can be integrated into a web or other application to create, manipulate and process documents in the PDF format.
iText Group: iText Group NV was originally founded as 1T3XT BVBA (January 2008). The company is based in Ghent (Belgium). The original BVBA (similar to an LLC) was upgraded to an NV (similar to a Corp.) in January 2014. The name was changed from 1T3XT to iText Group. The company became a part of a joint venture with the South-Korean Hancom Group in December 2015. Ownership of the joint-venture changed to private equity players affiliated with Crescendo Equity Partners in 2018.
Bruno also co-founded the following subsidiaries for iText Group:
- iText Software Corp. (February 2009) aka ISC, a company incorporated in California with offices in Massachusetts.
- iText Software BVBA (August 2011) aka ISB, a company incorporated in Belgium with offices in Gentbrugge, Belgium.
- iText Software Asia Pte. Ltd. (Aprill 2015) aka ISA, a company incorporated in Singapore.
Bruno was the original CEO of iText Group until April 2016. He was the CTO from April 2016 until September 2018. He stopped all operational activities at iText on September 23, 2018. He's currently active in Wil-Low and QLT.
Wil-Low: Wil-Low BV was founded by Ingeborg Willaert and Bruno Lowagie. With this company, Ingeborg and Bruno provide services as board member, C-level officer, investor, and advisor in different start-ups and scale-ups.
QLT: the main founder of QLT is Jago Lowagie, Bruno's youngest son. Ingeborg and Bruno help their son with a new business model for table tennis events.
When asked for his most important strength as a person, Bruno mentions his ability to reinvent himself.
- High school
- Bruno majored in Latin and Math, his most favorite subjects in high school. He loved reading books and he loved doing Math. He had his first computer (a TI 99/4A) in 1982, at the age of 12, and by the age of 16, he had developed his own word processor, database system,... in BASIC (on a TRS-80/4P).
- Bruno graduated as a civil architectural engineer. He's both an engineer and an architect. He has a degree for designing buildings, not software, yet software development is how he earned a living in the first years of his career.
- Pre-entrepreneur career
- After college, Bruno did an unpaid internship at a software integrator. He obtained a certificate as "GIS-IT engineer" (GIS being an acronym for Geographical Information Systems). He switched jobs 3 times during the first 2 years of his career, working for different system integrators. In 1998, he became a civil servant at Ghent University. He was the project leader of several IT projects for the student enrollment and administration department. He stayed at Ghent University until 2010.
- In 1998, Bruno wrote a first PDF library for Ghent University. While this library worked, it wasn't developer-friendly: a developer had to know the PDF specification inside-out in order to use it. Unhappy with the result, Bruno decided to write a new, better PDF library from scratch. He named this library iText and released a first version as free open source software (LGPL) on February 14, 2000. Soon after the first release, the MPL would be added as an alternative license.
- Reputation: Bruno was on Stack Exchange from August 2012 until September 2018, gaining a 72K+ reputation on Stack Overflow and a 4K+ reputation on the Open Source forum:
- Because of the many questions posted on the iText mailing-list, Bruno decided to spend a large part of his vacation in 2004 on writing a free online tutorial. This resulted in two book contract offers, one by O'Reilly and one by Manning. He signed with Manning in 2005 and his first book was released in the fall of 2006. Eventually more than 12K copies were sold. A second edition (actually a complete rewrite) was published in 2010. Up until today, more than 10K copies were sold. After this second book, Bruno decided to write free ebooks. The book contract was a catalyst that started the metamorphosis of "Bruno the developer" into "Bruno the Author". In 2019, Bruno started writing fiction stories, resulting in several nominations and awards.
- Software IP specialist
- The "iText in Action" book turned out to be a great marketing instrument. Suddenly, everyone started using iText. However, this brought about a different type of questions: who owns the IP of iText? iText was offered under the MPL/LGPL and nobody was paying for using iText. Who was responsible for the source code? To answer this question, the Eclipse Foundation suggested that Actuate (a company that is now owned by OpenText) and Ghent University (Bruno's employer at that time) would make a Research Agreement with a complete IP overview as deliverable. This project took the larger part of 2007.
- 2008 was an annus horribilis for Bruno and his family. In January, Ingeborg and Bruno founded their first company, but in February, their eldest son (born in 1996) was diagnosed with Cancer. They've spent more time in hospital than at a desk.
- In 2009, Bruno was faced with a dilemma: either go for the security of a permanent job at the University, or take the leap forward and become a full-time entrepreneur. Or why not try combining both? Bruno switched to working half-time at Ghent University and with the help of Andrew Binstock, a second company was founded: ISC in California. New versions of iText were no longer released under the MPL/LGPL, but under the AGPL. The company started without employees on payroll, but as the business grew, Bruno decided to leave Ghent University. In 2010, he and Ingeborg worked full-time on iText. The first employees on payroll were hired in 2011, when ISB was founded. Today, new employees are being hired every quarter. In 2014, iText opened an office in Singapore, resulting in a first Asian subsidiary in 2015. Reinventing the engineer, developer, and author into being an entrepreneur and a CEO responsible for employees in different continents (having a company that never sleeps) was the most challenging metamorphosis. One of Bruno's favorite quotes featured on Deloitte's Calendar in 2014: Good engineers build great technology; great engineers also create a sustainable business model.
- The iText companies were bootstrapped without any loans from the bank, without any funds from a business angel, without any venture capital. Nevertheless, iText was able to grow fast, which resulted in a series of awards such as Deloitte's Fast 50, European and American Business Awards, and so on (see the Awards and nominations page). It hasn't always been that way. These awards are the results of a process of trial and error, learning things the hard way.
- Whatever you do, it's always important to do it in the context of a community. Open source is about sharing, but so is doing business. Nothing is more awarding than sharing your experience with young entrepreneurs who are thinking about starting their own company. That's why Bruno is a speaker at many startup events, such as the Tech Startup Day, Startup Weekend, the Devoxx Startup track,...
- Another way to contribute to society is by participating in the creation of new standards. Bruno has been a member of the ISO committees responsible for the PDF standards (ISO-32000, ISO-19005, ISO-14289,...) for many years. This is a two-way process: he uses his experience in the industry to ensure that the standards meet a specific business need (as opposed to being purely academic), and he evangelizes the standards so that they are introduced and used in the business.
- Together with his wife, Bruno is a Limited Partner in Smartfin, a co-investor in a tech company with Volta Ventures and an angel investor in different startups. He also advises companies on how to become investor-ready.
- Film Buff and Avid Reader
- When asked for his hobbies, Bruno's answer is very predictable: movies and books! For more than 20 years now, Bruno is a Friend of the International Film Festival Ghent, which means that, during the IFFG, you can find him in a movie theater every single day. He's also a regular at the SXSW Film Festival in Austin, Texas. Recently, Bruno also started investing in film. As for books: he reads everything, ficton as well as non-fiction.
When asked for his most important weakness, Bruno admits that he's easily bored. That may sound surprising, knowing that he has been working on PDF for about 20 years, but looking at his track record, you discover that iText has given him the opportunity to reinvent himself many times, which is exactly what makes him tick. He's now working on a new project that is completely different from everything he has done before.
And what if everything suddenly changes? What if there's another crisis like the one in 2008? What if competition gets fiercer? Bruno's answer is clear: "I'll simply have to reinvent myself once more; I'll adapt."
You know a man by his favorite quotes:
- "If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them." As read in "Walden; or, Life in the Woods" by Henry David Thoreau
- "Men who are doers can also be thinkers, but the thinking is done on the move, in the midst of events." As read in "The October Horse: A Novel of Caesar and Cleopatra" by Colleen McCollough (Masters of Rome series)
- "A process cannot be understood by stopping it. Understanding must move with the flow of the process, must join it and flow with it." As read in "Dune" by Frank Herbert
- "There are people that fish, and those who just disturb the water." Chinese proverb
- "If you live an ordinary life, all you'll have are ordinary stories." Quote from the movie Passengers
- "I'll adapt" Seven of Nine in "Star Trek: Voyager"
- "Do... or do not. There is no try." Yoda in "Star Wars: Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back"
- "Personally I’m always ready to learn, although I do not always like being taught."Attributed to Winston Churchill
- "You embarrass me. You're overestimating me. Listen, I'm not a man with any special skill, but I've had plenty of experience in battles; losing battles, all of them. In short, that's all I am. Drop such an idea for your own good." As heard in the movie "Seven Samurai", 1954, Akira Kurosawa
- "Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable. Be honest and frank anyway."(Commandment 5 of the Paradoxical Commandments
- LEAR: "But goes thy heart with this?" CORDELIA: "Ay, good my lord." LEAR: "So young, and so untender?" CORDELIA: "So young, my lord, and true." As read in "King Lear" by William Shakespeare
- "Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference." Serenity prayer
- "God made us plain and simple, but we have made ourselves very complicated." The Bible, Ecclesiastes 7:29
- "It is superfluous to suppose that what can be accounted for by a few principles has been produced by many." Thomas Aquinas' version of Occam's Razor
- "Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity." Hanlon's Razor
- "Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you." Marianne Williamson
- "In order to achieve perfection a man would need a coldness that is alien to man, and then he would lack the human heart with which to love his own perfection." Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet