I've just finished writing a raw draft of a book with the working title "The Accidental Entrepreneur". I'm now writing a book proposal that will be sent to different publishers of business books in the course of next week. You can find a short intro and the full table of contents below.
With this blog post, I want to do perform a small marketing survey. I'd like you to answer the following questions on LinkedIn:
Feel free to share this post on social media. It would even be better if you could introduce me to a publisher.
Founders of tech startups don't read business books. I can tell because I help startups by making them "investor-ready" and I notice that technical founders know all there is to know about writing code, the Cloud, and apps. Unfortunately, they often have no clue what the due diligence process is about; they don't know the difference between a call option and a put option; and they can't justify why their company is worth millions of dollars.
Truth to be told, I didn't know any of those things either when I wrote the first lines of code that would result in iText, a free and open source PDF library. I would have called you crazy if you told me that this hobby project would eventually make me a multimillionaire. "Steve Jobs, A Biography" was one of the few business books I read, and although I liked the book, "being like Steve Jobs" was neither realistic nor desirable.
In "The Accidental Entrepreneur", I take the reader with me on my personal journey. I share the ups and downs of being a developer forced into business to save his free and open source project. Along the way, we learn what being an entrepreneur is about. After reading this book, you'll also know the vocabulary you'll need when looking for an investor. Whatever I did, you can do too.
I inform the reader which audience I had in mind while writing the different parts of the book. I explain that this book isn’t a scientific work, but a testimonial about how I created a product, founded a company, and grew the business towards an exit.
This part spans the time between my birth in 1970 and the first version of iText, released in the year 2000.
[2600 words] I get my first computer at the age of twelve. As a teenager in the eighties, I write my own games. I also create a database system that leads to a first, extremely small business. That’s also my first failure.
[3200 words] I meet the girl that will become my wife and business partner. I’m not a good student, but eventually, I obtain a master’s degree in civil engineering.
[2400 words] I don’t succeed in finding a job. I end up doing an unpaid internship instead. During that internship, I learn about a new programming language, Java, and I explore the internet for the first time.
[3400 words] I change jobs three times in two years’ time. In-between, I start many projects; all of them fail, just like the business I started as a teenager.
[2200 words] This chapter starts with the history of PDF and a promise I make to my employer: I’ll add PDF functionality to a web application. When I discover that there isn’t any tool that meets my employer’s needs, I decide to write a PDF library myself.
[3700 words] I rewrite my PDF library from scratch, not knowing that iText, as I call the library, will make me a multimillionaire. I don’t succeed in getting promoted at my day job. Frustrated, I change jobs once more, but that doesn’t bring me the success I long for.
This part spans the time between the creation of iText in 2000 and the year we decided to scale up, 2012.
[3000 words] This chapter isn’t about me. It’s a historical overview about the origins of free software, with a focus on GNU and copyleft licenses.
[3200 words] A new name is coined because the word “free” in “free software” is often misinterpreted. I enter the picture. I have made iText open source and I define three challenges.
[4100 words] I write a book for Manning Publications. I’m amazed at how many people are involved when writing a technical book. With this book, I complete my first mission: documenting iText.
[3800 words] I complete my second mission. Together with the legal team of IBM in Canada, I solve a series of IP issues.
[3100 words] My wife and I create a first company for iText in Belgium. Unfortunately, our son gets diagnosed with Cancer a month and a half after we went into business. We nearly go bankrupt. My third mission fails.
[4000 words] We find a friend who creates a company for us in the US. Our first customers help us define our first product: a EULA for iText. We hire salespeople on commission, and we make a controversial decision: we move from a license with weak copyleft to a license with a very strong copyleft.
[3500 words] I realize that Venture Capital is not for me. I choose to bootstrap the business. An attempt to merge with another company fails because we don’t agree on who gets how many shares. We discover how much other people think our company is worth.
[3400 words] We hire our first employees on payroll. Adobe makes PDF an international standard and our business is growing. We conclude that the third mission is finally accomplished.
[4100 words] We look back at everything we’ve experienced in the previous chapters. Free and open source software has evolved from a philosophy into a business model. I’ve tried many ways to make money with open source software myself, and I’ve learned some important lessons about doing business.
This part starts with a first M&A project in 2012 and ends when I sell my last shares in 2020.
[4100 words] We hire an M&A consultant because we want to know what it would take to sell our business. Reading “The Founder’s Dilemmas”, a book by Noam Wasserman, we realize that we need to change the way we make decisions.
[4400 words] We look at our options and make a business plan and we change almost everything in the way we do business.
[4500 words] This chapter is about winning: winning awards, winning users, winning our first lawsuit, and winning territory. I also win some time for myself.
[3100 words] This chapter shows the result of the time won in the previous chapter. Two new projects, codenamed Arya and Tyrion, result in new products, and should make us an interesting target for acquisition.
[3300 words] We hire another M&A consultant and as the title indicates, we succeed in finding a buyer. My wife leaves the company; I keep some shares and accept a three-year commitment in a joint venture with the South Korean buyer.
[3500 words] I search for synergies for the companies in the joint venture, but this chapter brings one disappointment after the other.
[4100 words] A breach of trust between my and my partner in the joint venture makes me go back to my roots. Together with the CEO, I define a series of tasks that should allow us to grow our own business significantly.
[3800 words] We lose our CEO and COO; they are replaced by people from my partner in the joint venture. My role as CTO is also in danger. I receive a letter from a law firm informing me that I’m no longer welcome at the office.
[4200 words] I fight in court for a year and a half. Eventually, a settlement agreement is made, and I sell my remaining shares in the company.
This is a single chapter about a new career that started in 2019
[2200 words] I find myself a new challenge: winning writing contests. I also find the time to write a book. I see that iText is doing well. I am no longer a part of the company, but I am proud of the journey I’ve made.