As Lulu.com Turns 20, Founder Bob Young Reflects on His Endurance


RALEIGH — In 1999, Bob Young stepped down as CEO of Red Hat after the company went public. Determined to share his story, he employed a hybrid editor, but remained “frustrated, disappointed, and dissatisfied with the nominal results.”

He then decided to take matters into his own hands and launched Lulu.com, an online self-publishing company.

Flash-forward so far: The company has enabled over 2 million creators to publish over 300,000 projects, including books, calendars, journals and magazines. It employs around 70 people at RTP’s headquarters, as well as two small teams in Germany and Poland.

Lulu Lives On: 20 Years Red Hat Founder Bob Young’s Self-Publishing Company Keeps Innovating

Lulu also works with the North Carolina State University Entrepreneurship Initiative to organize the annual eGames startup competition. The program works with students to create and develop business ideas.

As the company celebrates its 20th anniversary, Chantal Allam of WRAL TechWIre had the chance to meet him. Here is what he had to say:

  • Congratulations on celebrating Lulu’s 20th birthday. What has been the secret to the company’s longevity and success?

Young: Lulu’s commitment to customer success is the short answer. As with any successful business, it’s taken a tremendous amount of hard work from a dedicated team to innovate the right answers for creators and businesses that depend on our ability to print and distribute books more efficiently and successfully. Kathy Hensgen, CEO of Lulu, and her team have done a truly brilliant job of innovating over the past few years, and Lulu is beautifully positioned to continue to thrive doing what they always do: making the world a better place for creators and their audiences.

  • Lulu has just launched its own e-commerce tool that helps authors sell directly to consumers. Why is it so important for Lulu to up their e-commerce game? And where do you see the business headed?

Young: Authors, whether they are individuals, teams or companies, are in fact businessmen who need to generate income in order to further develop the stories, knowledge and books for their audience. Having the ability to build and manage their own customer base is the only way they can be guaranteed to thrive in the future. Some existing marketplaces let you sell books, but don’t let you manage your customers. Indeed, we allow authors to create their own libraries, and not to send their readers to someone else’s library.

  • Let’s change gears. Three years ago, IBM bought Red Hat, the company you co-founded in 1993 and served as CEO until 1999, for $34 billion. Since then, it has undergone a few management changes, but its sales continue to climb. Do you think IBM’s bet on Red Hat is paying off? Did it meet your expectations?

Young: You will need to check with IBM on this one. I have no knowledge of their forecasts and their budgets. But it’s still a signature deal in the Open Source world. One of the world’s largest technology providers is betting its future on delivering the benefits of open source software to its enterprise customers around the world.

  • You also served as CEO of PrecisionHawk from 2015 to 2017. You remain on its board of directors. In 2020, the drone tech startup reported “more than 100% year-over-year growth.” Is this still the case? And where do you see the company heading in this emerging post-COVID environment?

Young: Again, you’ll need to check with Jim Norrod, CEO of PrecisionHawk. He has big plans for the company and for customers who rely on their innovative technology to improve their understanding of their land assets, from power lines to energy infrastructure.

  • On a personal note, how do you like to spend your time these days? Do you have something in preparation?

Young: With the possible exception of my wife’s Needlepoint.com business, my current job has shifted from running businesses to helping others succeed in running their businesses.

  • To a young startup founder, what advice would you give them for navigating this new post-COVID normal?

Young: The best view of the pandemic I’ve heard is that it really didn’t change anything, it just dramatically accelerated trends that were already underway. As such, these “young start-up founders” have huge competitive advantages over more experienced managers simply because they grew up with these trends, from working 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 e-commerce bookstore tools, you can build innovative businesses faster and more cost-effectively than ever before.

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