RALEIGH — Back in 1999, Bob Young stepped down as Red Hat CEO after the company went public. Determined to share his story, he employed a hybrid publisher, but was left “frustrated, disappointed, and dissatisfied with the nominal results.”
So he decided to take matter into his own hands and launched Lulu.com, an online self-publishing firm.
Flash-forward to today: The company has enabled more than 2 million creators to publish over 300,000-plus projects, including books, calendars, journals, and magazines. It has a staff of about 70 people in its RTP headquarters, as well as two small teams in Germany and Poland.
Lulu also works with the North Carolina State University Entrepreneurship Initiative to host the annual eGames startup competition. The program works with students to create and develop business ideas.
As the company celebrates its 20-year anniversary, WRAL TechWIre’s Chantal Allam got the chance to catch up with him. Here’s what he had to say:
- Congrats on celebrating Lulu’s 20-year anniversary. What’s been the secret to the company’s longevity and success?
Young: Lulu’s commitment to its customers’ success is the short answer. As in any successful business – it has taken a huge amount of work by a dedicated team to innovate the right answers for the creators, and companies who depend on our ability to print and distribute books more efficiently and successfully. Kathy Hensgen, Lulu’s CEO, and her team have done a truly brilliant job innovating in recent years and Lulu is beautifully positioned to continue to prosper going forward doing what they always do – making the world a better place for creators and their audiences.
- Lulu just launched its own ecommerce tool that helps authors sell directly to consumers. Why is it so important for Lulu to up its ecommerce game? And where do you see the company headed?
Young: Authors, whether individuals, teams, or corporations are in fact business people who need to generate revenue in order to further develop the stories, knowledge, and books for their audiences. Having the ability to build and manage their own customer base is the only way they can be assured of prospering in future. Some existing marketplaces allow you to sell books, but do not allow you to manage your customers. In effect we are enabling authors to build their own bookstores, not send their readers to someone else’s bookstore.
- Let’s change gears. Three years ago, IBM bought Red Hat, the company that you co-founded in 1993 and served as CEO until 1999, for $34 billion. Since then, it’s undergone some leadership changes yet its sales continue to climb. Do you think IBM’s bet on Red Hat is paying off? Has it met your expectations?
Young: You will have to check with IBM on this one. I have not been privy to their forecasts and budgets. But it remains a signature deal in the Open Source world. One of the world’s great suppliers of technology are betting their future on delivering the benefits of Open Source software to their corporate customers around the world.
- You also served as CEO of PrecisionHawk from 2015-2017. You remain on its board. Back in 2020, the drone tech startup reported “over 100% growth year on year.” Is that still the case? And where do you see the company headed in this emerging post-COVID environment?
Young: Again you’ll have to check with Jim Norrod, CEO of PrecisionHawk. He has big plans for the company and for the customers who are relying on their innovative technology to improve their understanding of their terrestrial assets, from power lines to energy infrastructure.
- On a personal note, how do you like to spend your time these days? Do you have anything in the works?
Young: With the possible exception of my wife’s Needlepoint.com business, my current day job has changed from running businesses to helping others be successful leading their businesses.
- To a young startup founder, what advice would you give them navigating this new normal post-COVID?
Young: The best take on the pandemic I’ve heard is that it did not really change anything, it simply and significantly accelerated trends that were already under way. As such those “young start-up founders” have huge competitive advantages over more experienced managers simply because they grew up with these trends, from work-from-home to the role of social media in e-commerce. There may never have been a better time to be an entrepreneur. With a myriad of online tools, like Lulu.com’s ecommerce bookstore tools, you can build innovative businesses faster and at lower cost than ever before.