Carlos Fenollosa

Carlos Fenollosa

Engineer, developer, entrepreneur

Carlos Fenollosa — Blog

Thoughts on science and tips for researchers who use computers

The top 13 actionable learnings to sail smoothly through this startup crisis

June 11, 2022 — Carlos Fenollosa

This week I attended Saastr Europa, the biggest SaaS event in Europe. Of course, everybody talked about the current SaaS "situation".

If you couldn't attend, don't worry. I got you covered.

Here are the top 13 actionable learnings to sail smoothly through this crisis.

1. The crash is real for public companies, not so real for early stage.

SaaS as a category is growing.

But none of that matters. Uncertainty and doubt trickles down. VCs are going to be very cautious for the next months.

Plan for that.

2. Bessemer benchmarked SaaS companies YoY growth

  • $1-10M, average 200%. Top 230%+
  • $10-25M, average 115%. Top 135%+
  • $25-50M, average 95%. Top 110%+

Where are you located?

3. Increase runway!

  • Promote yearly upfront payments with an attractive discount
  • Improve collections and renegotiate with vendors
  • Reduce paid mkt spend. Acquisition for the bottom 20% customers is inefficient, quit those

4. On international expansion

Don't think it's a silver bullet to improve your metrics.

Similar to an unhappy couple having a baby. You will not find PMF in country 2 if you haven't found it in country 1.

Do a lot of research with your early customers.

5. On providing professional services

The true value is not in software but in a solution.

Solution = SaaS + PS

Make PS recurring and pay attention to Gross Margin.

6. Logo retention > ARR Churn

Keeping big logos is important, not only strategically but also because it means you have stickiness and are doing things right.

A VP Sales should be obsessive about logo retention.

7. Transitioning from founder-led sales to a sales team is difficult

Early people are hungry and curious.

Later people are focused on results and process.

Move early people to "builder" projects even outside sales to keep them active or they will leave.

8. Measure Customer Success using an honest metric:

  • Slack: messages sent
  • Dropbox: files added
  • Hubspot: features used

CS is the perimeter of your company. Pay close attention to it and you will see the future.

9. Increase your prices!

40% of companies have already done it.

Avg increase by ticket size:

  • $11-25: 18%
  • $500+: 34%

Increases in between follow a linear gradient.

10. Don't try to optimise your tech organisation too early.

Technical debt can kill your company after 10 years. But obsessing about practices and optimising processes too early will kill it BEFORE you make it to 10.

Focus on PMF and iterate fast.

11. Let go of bottom 10% performers

If somebody is a clear underperformer it's a great time to let go of them.

Your team knows who's good and who's not. It will improve overall team morale.

12. Net New ARR > ARR

ARR is too big of a metric and can make slight deviations from the plan seem insignificant

NN ARR allows you to discover future cashflow problems much earlier.

13. USA ≠ EU

You cannot open the USA as "just another country". Reserve around $5M to start operations there.

"Looking too European" is a mistake, so is taking American resumes at face value.

Tags: startups

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I didn't return my Apple Studio Display

April 01, 2022 — Carlos Fenollosa

The Apple Studio Monitor

The Apple Studio Display is, unquestionably, a very good monitor.

But the real question is, should you pay €1,800+ for it?

I have been asking that question myself for the past ten days.

Today I decided that while I can't recommend it, I will not return my new monitor. Here's why.

The Pros

I replaced my Benq 27" 2560x1440 IPS LCD display with the Studio Display. These are the main benefits:

The panel. It is good. It could be better, of course. It could have more modern features, too. But it is a good 5k retina panel.

As soon as I started using the Studio Monitor it felt like I had put glasses on. Every other screen looks blurry now.

The rest of the review is accessory to this experience. It is something that you have to, quite literally, see with your own eyes.

The speakers and microphone. They are fantastic. A big step up from any other speakers I've used on any computer.

True Tone. All other displays look bluish now. Great underrated feature.

It is the best-in-class. Simple as that. Its only competitor is the LG UltraFine, which is not much cheaper and lacks other features. If you want a 5K retina display the Studio Display is the best choice.

The Cons

Like everything with recent Apple, there is no progress without compromise.

The stand is too low. Asking users to pay an extra €460 for an adjustable stand is an insult. Sorry but there is no other way to put it. Therefore, this beautiful piece of hardware now stands on top of an ugly PHP reference manual.

Apple, if you ship a monitor with a non-adjustable stand in 2022, please make sure that the default height is at an ergonomic level. It should be at least 5-8 centimeters higher. Since Apple is the company which cares the most about accessibility, no sarcasm here, we can only conclude that this was either a punitive or aesthetic decision.

The screen. It is glossy like all Apple displays. For me this is the first glossy display I've used, so it stands out.

I now notice distracting reflections when working with a dark app. I would have liked to test the nano-textured glass, but I am not going to pay an extra €250 on top of the €1,800.

The speakers. They have too much bass. All audio is artificially deep. For music this is not an issue, but for video conferences it makes every person sound like James Earl Jones.

Clearly Apple never tested for this use case, because they hate video conference users as we will see below.

It doesn't bother me too much, but I wonder why the speakers couldn't sound more natural. It is not a defect of the hardware. Somebody made an odd decision.

The Don't Cares

High brightness. 600 nits is really bright indoors, but if you need such a high brightness level it means you have other problems. If you are in an extremely lit room, maybe with direct sunlight, the reflections will overpower the display brightness.

Good feature, but unlike on a laptop, it doesn't make a difference.

USB-C hub. If you use an Apple laptop you need an external Thunderbolt dock anyway.

I still have six devices which require USB-A and only one which requires USB-C. Therefore, they are plugged to my dock. The extra USB-C ports on the Display remain unused.

It is a nice feature, don't get me wrong, but in 2022 we are not yet in a world where you can ignore USB-A. That is the truth, even if Apple doesn't like it. I know I am asking for an impossible, but if they wanted to make the USB hub useful, they should have included USB-A ports on this monitor.

Non-detachable power cable. I guess it should be user replaceable, but I've never, in my 30 years using computers, have a monitor power cable fail me. It's a non-issue.

That said, mark my words, I hope I don't have to eat my hat in three years.

No buttons or controls. I guess this is a good feature and it does make the display more beautiful, but I really don't care. Hey, this is my review!

The Cruelty

There is a product manager at Apple who, for some reason, hates webcam users with a burning passion.

They despise them so much that they wish they could personally slap each and every webcam user in their ugly, vassal faces.

Since that is physically impossible, they decided to incarnate that slap into the worst webcam Apple has ever shipped.

I compared the 2020 Macbook camera to the 640x480 VGA camera of my 2006 Nokia 5200. Believe it or not, this webcam is worse.

Apple picked up the worst lens SKU they had in stock and hopefully due to a bug they decreased the quality of the image processing pipeline. And this is on an expensive monitor with plenty of physical space to fit a big, quality lens.


Gruber found the perfect adjective: cadaveric.

I kid you not, the first call I did with my new monitor, the colleague at the other end, who sees me every day, asked me if I was sick.

For the love of all that's good, Apple, if your webcam can be even slightly fixed with software, please do it.

The Veredict

I was not only ready, I was eager to return this monitor.

I had been keeping some notes where I was compiling my thoughts to help me make a decision.

At the bottom I wrote down what I would do with the return money. "Surprise my wife with an expensive vacation". "Buy new water heater". "Get an electric bike". "Buy two 4K monitors".

But I knew that, below all layers of cynicism and anger, I had to be fair and make a rational decision.

Before putting the monitor back in its box, I asked myself the questions that really matter when making a purchase decision.

  • Improvement: Is this monitor better than my current one?   YES
  • Value: Can I get a better one for that same price?   NO

And I did something else: I plugged the Benq back and used it for ten minutes.


  • Need: Am I willing to go back to my 27" Benq?   NO

It's either this or glasses

Once you try the Studio Display every other monitor makes you feel like you need glasses —Apple, feel free to use this benefit in your marketing copy.

I'm approaching 40 and I am starting to realize that my sight is deteriorating a bit. I can see very well, but I find it more difficult to read small text at a distance.

The Studio Display fixes that. I do not need to increase font size anymore. The text rendering is so good that I can continue reading 12pt websites at an arm's distance.

Had I not used it for ten days, my frame of reference would be the same, and I would not "miss" a feature I didn't know existed. I would be happy with my Benq, increasing font size when needed, adjusting to my diminished visual abilities.

Wait, I know what you're thinking. You could have shown me this article ten years ago and I would've dismissed it. "Old people problems", I would've said, "an exaggeration".

But I can't go back. Apple pundits often say that "Apple ruined them with Retina", and I understand it now. It is something you have to experience.

Apple, why do you make this so difficult?

Of course the price tag is expensive. But it's not about the money, it's Apple's bizarre design decisions.

I can understand a compromised monitor for €900. But I can't understand a compromised one for €1,800.

Therefore, my recommendation for you as a reader is that you do not buy it, unless:

  • Money is no issue, you only go for quality, not value. In that case, get the adjustable stand too, and maybe the nano-textured glass.
  • You really do need a retina screen because you are starting to notice blurry pixels on regular monitors.

Marques puts it very well. The Apple Studio Display is not a good deal.

Unfortunately, it is the only deal.

As for me, there is no salvation. I am ruined by Retina.

You win again, Apple.

I just wish you didn't make every new product a battle. Please, let me buy a product and be happy afterwards without reservations.

My setup

Here it is, on top of the ugly PHP book. This setup will remind me every day for the next ten years that an Apple PM decided that not suffering from neck pain should be an €460 upsell.

Tags: apple, hardware

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Do you feel like Google search results keep getting worse?

January 16, 2022 — Carlos Fenollosa

If you feel like your Google searches are less and less effective, you are not alone.

Michael Seibel, partner at YC and a very good technologist, wrote a Twitter thread which generated thousands of comments on HN

The Internet before Google

You may remember the pre-Google internet, where it was difficult to find content online. Information was spread between the web, gopher, BBSs, newsgroups, and more.

Most webs had a Links section where webmasters recommended similar sites. Thus, whenever you found an interesting page you could discover more like it.

Then directories appeared. Yahoo! started as an index which grouped webpages by topics. Geocities created communities based on interests.

A few years later, search engines as we know them today appeared. Altavista had pretty good search results for the era, but Google disrupted the industry very quickly.

You know the story: they were not the first, but they established themselves as the leaders thanks to the quality of their results. Their founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin developed the PageRank algorithm at the University of Stanford.

Yes, Google is a successful spin-off from a research department, created by nerds.

The decline of search results

Google has continued advancing their technology, of course. So it seems like it wouldn't make sense that search results get worse instead of better.

What started with a "simple" algorithm which used hyperlinks to establish website authority has been getting more and more complicated.

There are two main reasons:

  1. The need to understand what the user means and not what they write
  2. SEO strategies have converted the first page of Google results into a global war

Internet gets popular. The common denominator

In the beginning most of the web users were technically inclined. That is no more, especially with the popularization of the smartphone.

People stopped searching by keywords, and started searching by natural language sentences in all languages in the world.

Therefore, Google must understand the intent of the search given a user query. They use Artificial Intelligence techniques, but that means sometimes they ignore important parts of the query.

For example, ignoring niche words, interpreting correct spellings as typos of a more popular word, changing the meaning of sentences, and more.

The search for this common denominator improves overall user experience at the expense of decreasing the quality of certain searches.

In summary, we all had to learn how to search by keywords many years ago. Google now has learned natural language, and some users will need to re-learn how to use search again.

Ecommerce and product searches

Ecommerce is on the rise. More and more users now search for products and services. Businesses have a great incentive to appear on top of the search results.

In 1998 we searched for information about our hobbies. In 2022 we search to shop. Regardless, our visits to websites are monetized in some way.

SEO techniques try to reverse engineer Google algorithms to appear on top of organic searches. Everybody is gaming the system in their favor.

It is a cat and mouse game where Google does its best to provide a good experience, but in the end, they are judge and jury. Because...

Google is also the top advertiser in the world. Business use SEM to promote their services, and the incentive for Google is to promote SEM results, as they are the ones bringing money to the table.

In the end, everybody is getting worse results. We see aggregator sites which add no value, webs optimized for Google instead of the visitors, and plain scams.

Are there alternatives?

That is a good question. What can we, as users do to improve this situation?

I have been researching alternative searchers and, unfortunately, I don't think they're as good as Google.

First of all, there are only two real alternatives: Bing and Yahoo!. Most of the so-called "alternative search engines" are providing results directly from one of the three above. They are just a layer of paint on top of the Big Three.

There are niche, 100% independent search services which try to replicate the Google of the 90s, but they are very limited. Try them!

In another universe we can find regional search engines who actually are more popular than Google in specific geographies. Yandex (43% in Russia), Baidu (76% in China) and Naver (85% in South Korea).

They are not really useful for an American or a European, but it's good to know that they're there.

You may ask yourself, why are there not more alternatives? The truth is that building a search engine is a humongous task, especially in a mature market.

Re-learn how to use Google

My personal recommendation is that you re-learn how to best use Google.

Remember to use the advanced search options.

Log in when searching, because Google uses AI to improve your searches based on past history. The more you search, the better your results will be.

In summary, nobody can trump Google, at least in Western countries.

If you are not satisfied with the quality of search results try some alternatives, but don't expect anything revolutionary.

Get acquainted with the "new Google" and use it for your benefit.

Adapted from my Twitter thread. Follow me on Twitter or subscribe for more!

Tags: internet

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Quantum computing keeps advancing, and it looks spectacular

January 04, 2022 — Carlos Fenollosa

About a month ago IBM introduced the Eagle, its first 127-qubit quantum computer.

And it's breathtaking, both on the inside...

... and the outside

Interestingly, this is not just frivolous design. Besides the futuristic looks, quantum computers require some very peculiar architectural designs.

What makes quantum computers special

Regular computers like the one you're using right now store data in bits. You know, zeros and ones. Bits are electric signals transmitted between electronic components, like transistors.

Quantum computers also use the binary system, but they store data on a different medium. They use particles such as electrons or photons, or superconductor cable loops.

These materials are chosen because they have two quantum features which are required, well, to make quantum computers work.

1. Superposition, or the ability to store different status at the same time. Two bits allow the storage of a small number between zero and four. Two qubits allow the storage of four simultaneous numbers. That's four times as much information.

2. Entanglement, or sharing "data" between qubits. Regular bits are independent, but the status of one qubit can influence another qubit.

Interesting applications

The math and physics are complex, but in summary, quantum computers can handle a huge amount of data. They make current supercomputers look like pocket calculators.

That makes them especially useful to solve problems which can only be solved by testing multiple combinations of numbers. For example, drug discovery, cryptography, planning and routing, weather forecast, etc.

You may realize that those are the same problems where we are applying Artificial Intelligence nowadays. That's no coincidence. AI is a technique to solve complex problems with a bit of intelligence, while quantum computers can bruteforce the solution. And both methods can be useful and complementary depending on the situation.

Quantum is the future, but not the present

While the technology is still immature, scientists are preparing for a world with widespread quantum computing capabilities.

In this world, traditional computing will become obsolete, a lot of problems will need to be reassessed, and others will appear.

Who knows? Maybe in thirty years you will be reading my blog on a quantum cellphone... or whatever it is we will use then.

If you want to learn more, I recommend this article in Nature, this introduction to quantum computing in NewScientist and the very enjoyable TV drama about quantum computers Devs

Adapted from my Twitter thread

Tags: hardware, future

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No notebook is perfect, but the reMarkable comes really close

November 21, 2021 — Carlos Fenollosa

The reMarkable is a premium e-ink notebook. Imagine a Kindle, but you can write on it.

It has become my daily notebook. I take all my meeting notes on it, dump my ideas and designs, and carry it with me everywhere. As a bonus, it also has replaced my Kindle and my relationship with ebooks and "read it later" in general.

I have been using a reMarkable for six months. It is a great product, but the 500€ price point is probably double than most people would be willing to pay for.

This article aims to answer one single question: should you buy one, and pay more than an iPad, which has more features?

The price tag and the 30-day return window

The reMarkable store gives you 30 days to return it if you're not satisfied. Were it not for this option, I would have never bought one.

During my first weeks of use I couldn't stop considering returning it. To organize my thoughts I created a note on the reMarkable where I dumped my raw impressions.

On top, with big letters: "Should I return it?". Below that, random thoughts. "I enjoy it. Magical things happen when you write on it". "557€". "Pen feeling is ok very good". "Don't think of the money". "Disappointed with the OCR". "Good for reading but not great"

When approaching the end of the return period I asked myself, "if this product cost 200€, would I return it?". Definitely not. "Do I enjoy my interactions with the reMarkable, even if it's not perfect?". Definitely yes.

So I opened my thoughts note, and at the bottom, with fancy calligraphy, I wrote: "I'll keep it!"

Six months later, and with the price tag long forgotten, I'm glad I did.

The reMarkable as a notebook

👍🏼 On the plus side:

The writing experience is excellent. This is indeed the most critical aspect of the product. The reMarkable is a fantastic notebook.

It does really seem like you are using pen and paper. There is almost no lag when writing, the text is crisp, and the texture of the screen is even better than those of a Wacom.

Perfect size. Big enough to write long lines and diagrams and have plenty of space, yet a bit smaller than an A4 which makes it fit everywhere.

The pen tips last long enough. I had the feeling that I would need to replace them too often, but that's not the case. My first tip has lasted for 6 months of daily use.

The filesystem and document management is simple and works well. Syncing cloud stuff is a difficult task and I was somewhat afraid that it would be unreliable. It works well and any time that the sync failed I've been able to retry and make it work.

In general, the reMarkable software does not do a lot, but what it does, it does well.

You can use it as a whiteboard with your computer. I had a Wacom but the reMarkable retired it. It can "project" your current page to the reMarkable app on your computer. You cannot use the pen as an input device directly, but this compromise works well when you are doing e.g. a video conference and want to draw something and share it with colleagues.

It is distraction free. If you buy an iPad you get more features, but you will be tempted with distractions when you are working. An iPad replaces a computer. The reMarkable replaces a notebook.

It really does make you more creative. The fact that you can easily erase and move elements on the page and work with layers allows you for a more creative thought process. You are not constrained by a permanent pen on paper or having to erase and rewrite with a pencil. I am regularly sketching new ideas and designs much quicker and easier than with a regular notebook, a blackboard or a computer.

You can bring it to interactions where using an iPad would be rude. Because it is so clearly a notebook and not a computer you can use it in places where it would be rude to pull out a phone, iPad or a laptop.

As an example, I recommended the reMarkable to a friend of mine who is a psychologist, and they use it when talking to patients. I bring it to very important meetings where having a "computer" on the table could suggest a lack of attention or respect to the other party.

Writing on the reMarkable. Note the quick response to the pen and the audio of the writing experience.

👎🏼 However, the reMarkable as a notebook has one big drawback and some minor aspects to improve.

The OCR is useless. This is the most disappointing aspect of the reMarkable. Yes, it has OCR and it is of acceptable quality, but it doesn't work the way it should.

On the reMarkable, OCR needs to be invoked manually and the output text is then sent by email as a plain txt file. If you were hoping for it to work like ocrmypdf you will be disappointed.

To be useful, OCR ought to happen automatically, and should keep the converted text linked to the page graffitti as a reference. If that is too complex, at least add the recognized text as metadata so that the handwritten notes can be searched.

One of my main time sinks is to tidy up my handwritten meeting minutes into a computer document. I was hoping that my reMarkable would solve that and I only had to edit the OCR errors, but that was not the case. I still have to manually type my notes to a document afterwards.

Not having searchable notes was almost a deal-breaker for me, and I still have hope that this behavior will be implemented in the future as an update.

The eraser tool could be much improved. You can either select an area to delete or drag the pen and delete areas below it, but you cannot delete strikes.

Syncing should be more proactive. To sync your changes, you need to (1) close the current document, (2) wait for the reMarkable to connect to wifi, (3) wait for the sync to finish.

This means that the opened document you are working on will not sync unless you close it. I understand this is done to save battery, but I feel like the reMarkable should still wake up the radio and sync the current document every 15 minutes or so.

The accessories are expensive. You must use a pen with the reMarkable. It should be included in the base package, and the only reason it isn't is to reduce the price tag on the homepage. That feels a bit dishonest. The comparison with the iPad doesn't hold, because the iPad is not a notebook. Therefore, the base price of the reMarkable is $450.

The pen with the eraser is unreasonably priced and nobody should buy it since the eraser is no good anyways.

Regarding the cover, it is more necessary than on other tablets, because you can't risk damaging or even slightly scratching the soft screen. The sleeve is $70 and the book-like cover is $120.

This sets the real price of a reMarkable between $520 and $670.

The reMarkable as an ebook reader

The reMarkable is a fine ebook reader which supports both pdf and epub files. It has no backlight, but I don't find that an issue as I don't read in bed.

Transferring and organizing files is super easy and much more convenient than on a Kindle or iPad. The desktop or mobile app allows you to send any document to the cloud, which will quickly sync to the reMarkable.

I have made a habit of exporting interesting articles or even long emails to pdf and sending them to the reMarkable. It is my "read it later". After many years of struggling with a good solution for this use case, I am very happy with the result.

The size is definitely on the larger side if you are used to smaller Kindles, but it has its benefits, especially when reading PDF files.

If you are familiar with dedicated ebook readers, you will miss a dictionary, bookmarks and annotations. You can highlight parts of the text, but there is no index of annotations anywhere. This makes it unsuitable for some types of editing and annotated reading.

Finally, in case somebody from reMarkable reads this, please fix your gesture to turn pages. I find myself needing to do the gesture up to four or five times until it works. This is a bit annoying when writing, but very prominent when reading ebooks. I would appreciate a setting or a mode where you can turn pages just by tapping on the margins, like other ebook readers.

Other thoughts

The battery life is excellent. You do not need to worry about it. It lasts between one and two weeks. Remember to use the sleep button for a better battery experience.

You have root access. The reMarkable is a proud Linux computer and you can SSH into it. You can install third party software. However, that software is not very polished, and sometimes even experimental, so I ended up using the official apps. Just be aware that if you're felling brave you can install other notebook apps and ebook readers, some games, new templates, and even make the pen a real input device for your computer.

They are moving towards a subscription model. After reading about it, in my opinion, you don't need the subscription. Google Drive and Dropbox integration are not necessary because the provided cloud service works well. The handwriting conversion is moot as explained above. Screen share is nice to have but it's one of those use-once-or-twice-every-year things. If you choose to pay for the subscription you get a discount on the device, so both options are good.

The option to connect an external keyboard would be killer. Of course, the main use case is to write with a pen. However, given that this is a distraction-free device, the option to behave essentially like the screen of a typewriter would be much appreciated by writers and minimalists.

The magnetic snap of the pen is very addictive

Should I buy it?

The reMarkable is a brilliant device that will replace your paper notebook and, unless you are an advanced user of ebook devices, your ebook reader. It is the ideal companion to a laptop.

Having a reMarkable at hand makes you more creative and you will want to carry it everywhere. The experience of writing on the reMarkable is far superior to pen and paper and even iPad-like tablets. It provides a distraction-free environment with a much better handwriting experience.

It is very easy to upload and download data from it and you will find yourself sending longer articles to the reMarkable to read later. However, it will not solve the problem of typing up handwritten notes on a clean computer document.

The price tag is very high, but there is a 30-day return guarantee, and you will really enjoy using this device. Go ahead. Just try it for yourself.

Disclosure: If you purchase a reMarkable through the links on this article you will take advantage of a $40 referral coupon, which means that you will basically get the pen for free.

Tags: hardware, life

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