Editor’s note: Red Hat recently had its annual meeting, and sitting in the crowd — all smiles … was co-founder Bob Young. LocalTechWire recently grabbed Young for a few minutes to talk about why he left the company and started two new ventures. LTW also is featuring today the second of a two-part interview with Melissa London, Red Hat’s former chief spokesperson who was hired by Young in the firm’s early days. So read on as the former Hatters talk about their new careers — and also about the software company that once was such a big part of their lives.Bob Young is forever the entrepreneur.
Even before handing the reins of Red Hat over to Matthew Szulik this spring, Young was already planning his next venture, something probably closer to his salesman’s heart than the computer leasing and open-source software companies he had previously run.
Lulu Enterprises is built around the concept of the omnipotent consumer. Young decided to tackle the disparate industries of trade show management and online publishing because he saw in them the same lack of customer control he saw in software development in the early 1990s, which led him to co-found Red Hat.
“Business has always been a hobby of mine, and what I enjoy is solving problems in the marketplace,” he says. “With the open-source model, the people who benefit are the consumers, not the vendors. … I wanted to find a business that empowers the consumer, and these both are passions of mine and present tremendous opportunities.”
Lulu Tech Circus, the proposed technology trade show, is the further along of the two concepts at this point. An inaugural event featuring “rings” geared toward interests like gaming, graphics and robotics is scheduled for late September at the Dorton Arena on the North Carolina State Fairgrounds in Raleigh.
Most industry trade shows are geared toward exhibitors and treat attendees like cattle being moved through a stockyard, Young says. Lulu Tech Circus is being designed on just the opposite premise … he says he doesn’t care if any exhibitors take part … to showcase technology for the enthusiast in the same way that B.A.S.S. Masters does sport fishing for weekend anglers.
“If you talk to (trade) show managers, they will tell you people come to buy things. But the people will tell you it’s just entertainment, that they’re spending money and time at the show instead of playing golf or going to the movies,” Young says. “Technology is both what they do for a living and their recreational activity, and no one is catering to them.”
Copyright protections “distorted”
The most interesting aspect of the event, he says, will be the interaction between the attendees in the circus rings, with robotics experts who need help with programming or wireless networkers trying to learn more about ham radio finding people with the knowledge they seek right next door.
The other arm of Young’s new venture is Lulu Press, which purchased some assets of the defunct OpenMind Publishing in March. The concept is more of a business play … an Internet one at that, but as he notes, dot-coms are so far out of favor that it proved irresistible to his contrarian nature.
The goal of Lulu Press is to create a marketplace for small publishers to sell materials directly to the public before they become outdated … “I used to say we wanted to be the next Enron, but we changed that and now want to be like eBay,” Young says with a laugh … and to work toward a freer exchange of ideas amid what he calls “distorted” copyright regulations.
Because of intense lobbying by Disney officials whenever Mickey Mouse is close to falling into the public domain, copyright protections now extend 95 years, up from 20 years in the mid-1960s. Young said such rules now stifle creativity on many fronts.
“The way creativity works is … by stealing as many good ideas from everyone I think might have a good idea,” he says, and goes on to paraphrase Thomas Edison. “I say creativity is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent theft, and I define theft very liberally as anything you’ve learned from someone else.”
“Red Hat left me”
Young clearly has learned from many in going from running a small computer leasing company in Canada to building the world’s largest Linux software company. But he says one of his biggest lessons he picked up along the way was when to let go, and with Red Hat clicking along in recent years, he felt it was time to move on to something else.
“Red Hat left me, not the other way around,” he says. “Once you get to a certain size in business, you need someone who is process oriented to run it, not sales people. As I sat in board meetings seeing I was having less and less impact, I was no longer dumb enough to think I was the guy to run the company.”
Still, he is “a huge fan of Matt Szulik,” his handpicked successor as chief executive and, in April, as chairman of Red Hat. Szulik has worked to develop partnerships with IBM, Dell Computer and other industry powers to help win corporate customers for its Linux
operating system and eventually lead the company to profitability.
Young is confident that Red Hat will emerge stronger than ever when the economy picks up again, noting that it has maintained its revenues and positive cash flow despite the technology sector collapse over the past two years.
“It’s a highly disciplined, focused organization,” he says. “They have the vision better than I ever did, and they know the rules of operation and stick to them.”
Most promising, he says with a chuckle, is that Szulik’s management has raised the bar for the company: “There’s not a chance in hell that, if I submitted my resume, I’d be hired by Red Hat today. They don’t hire idiots.”
Lulu Enterprises website: www.lulu.com
Growing Up at Red Hat — Hatters’ Spokesperson Remembers Crazy Days: www.www.localtechwire.com/article.cfm?u=1500&k=31&l=21
Red Hat Memories: Former Chief Spokesperson Remembers the Feeling — ‘Kinda Like Religion’: www.www.localtechwire.com/article.cfm?u=1517&k=03&l=21