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 co-founder of iText Group NV, Wil-Low BV, QLT BV and Screensaver BV. He lives in Ghent (Belgium) for the larger part of the year, and in Los Gatos (California) for several weeks each season.
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.
Bruno is best known as founder of the following companies:
Bruno also co-founded the following subsidiaries for iText Group:
For those who don't know what iText is about: 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. 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 BV and Screensaver BV.
When asked for his most important strength as a person, Bruno mentions his ability to reinvent himself.
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.
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. Bruno was on Stack Exchange from August 2012 until September 2018, gaining an 75K+ 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.
At first, working with lawyers wasn't easy for Bruno, but soon maintaining and guarding the IP of the source code has become a second nature. Bruno also gained experience registering trademarks and writing patents. The developer/author reinvented himself as a specialist in software IP and related legal matters.
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. That year, they 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. 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 hadn'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 (Capital I and Capital II), a (former) co-investor in a tech company with Volta Ventures and an angel investor in different startups. He advises companies on how to become investor-ready, but he has put further investments in startups and scaleups on hold.
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 FilmFestGent, you can find him in a movie theater every single day. He also visited film festivals such as SXSW in Austin (TX), Cinequest in San Jose (CA), Cannes (France), the Berlinale (Germany) and FFO (Belgium). Bruno also invested in film as executive producer. 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 is constantly questioning things: 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: