The iText history

Tags: businessentrepreneurshipDeloitteFast50iText history

Today we received the official certificate of our 10th place in Deloitte's Fast 50 Award:
If you're interested in the story that led to us getting to that 10th place, you can still register for my talk at the BetaGroup in Kortrijk, Rotary Club in Vilvoorde or at the Business Angel Day in Antwerp.

This is a short overview of the topics I'll cover:


iText's success didn't come overnight: I had my first business idea at the age of 14. I wrote a flat file database system in Basic on my first "portable", a TRS 80/4P. Different organizations brought me their member list and I sold them printed address labels. As a student I was less successful: it took me 7 years (instead of 5) to graduate as a civil engineer. That doesn't mean I didn't learn anything during the 2 years I "lost." Thanks to some of my failures, I was able to learn more than some of those who succeeded at the first try ;-)

Having a mission is important, it helps you focus on what to do and what to avoid. To achieve our mission, we decided to choose for open source right from the start. This wasn't obvious in the year 2000. Large companies were spreading FUD about open source, and from 2004 on, I decided to deal with the three main misconceptions open source was facing:

MISCONCEPTION #1: "OPEN SOURCE ISN'T WELL DOCUMENTED"


I started a free online tutorial which resulted in two books published by Manning. More recently, I started writing a series of free ebooks.

MISCONCEPTION #2: "OPEN SOURCE MEANS: PLENTY OF LEGAL ISSUES"


In 2006-2007, the complete code base of iText was vetted by a battery of lawyers. A complete IP review was done. This resulted in a "clean" product. Since that day, I have the discipline to document every code contribution, making sure no unauthorized code is introduced into the library.

MISCONCEPTION #3: "YOU CAN'T BUILD A SUSTAINABLE BUSINESS ON OPEN SOURCE"


I remember a "full box/empty box" discussion with a VC in 2007 or 2008. I introduced iText to an investor and and he told me all I had was an empty box. That upset me, so I replied in anger: "What are you talking about? The box is full! I bring you proven technology, a best-selling book, hundred of thousands of unique visitors a year on my site,... How dare you say the box is empty?" Today I understand what the VC meant: there was no iText business at that time.


Our good result in Deloitte's Fast 50 proves that we managed to "fill the box". In my talk, I'll explain some of the differences I noticed between doing business in the US versus doing business in Europe, and how we're trying to combine the best of both worlds with our customers and our partners: