Carlos has never experienced Surf Office as our usual guest. But as a vital part of the tech community in Gran Canaria, he has been our friend and related to Surf Office for a long time.
Being partly remote himself, Carlos believes that working only 5 hours a day is better for his company Quaderno and leads a great example of how relaxed, yet efficient management should look like.
Carlos, how did the idea of Quaderno spring up?
Several years ago I started my business as a consultant where I made software for other companies. It was quite difficult to find software to make all the invoices and access them whenever I wanted. I developed a prototype for my business and it worked well so we decided to make it public. We started in Spain to test it in the market and we saw we could export the idea and make the software global.
Two summers ago I saw new applications that were using Stripe’s API to start business on top of that. I also found that Stripe doesn’t send an invoice when you charge customer a credit card, it would just send a receipt to your customer. That’s good enough in the States but it’s not enough in the EU.
We integrated Stripe with Quaderno in order to automate all the invoicing process. Every time you charge credit card on Stripe we automatically send an invoice to customer. We launched in summer 2014, got featured on Product Hunt and Hacker News and we started getting more and more customers from all around the world.
We started with Stripe because it was pretty easy to integrate and it’s a wonderful API. But Stripe is not so popular in EU as it’s in the States, maybe except the UK. So we’ve started to integrate new gateways like Paypal, Braintree or Go cardless. We are now building an invoicing app to automate all the invoicing processes and tax managing.
How much time do you spend working on the road as opposed to working from the office in Gran Canaria?
I stay in Gran Canaria from October to April and travel to Europe for summer. Last year I’d been traveling in Europe and working remotely.
I use Germany as headquarter, a base connected to other countries. This summer I was in Berlin for one month and then I went to Prague, Vienna, Bratislava and Budapest for short trips. I also went to Surf Office in Lisbon to work on the Tech beach for two weeks, visited some friends in Barcelona and then came back to Canary Islands.
All those months I was traveling with my 8 kg backpack and it was awesome. I wouldn’t think it’s possible to travel with such a small number of things, but it is. And I really loved it because you feel more free to change plans and visit new countries.
Did you experience any problems with productivity when you were constantly traveling?
Not at all. In fact, I tried to keep my routine when away. I got up in the morning, had breakfast and started working for a while. Then I made a break for lunch and kept working some more. In the afternoon from four or five I tried to visit the place where I was. I tried to do that every single day.
I love this combination because you can work in the morning and then use all the afternoon and the evening to visit the place, meet new people, go to meet ups… anything outside your permanent environment.
It’s like being a part time digital nomad. If you’re traveling for a long time, it becomes pretty addictive to discover new places, meet new people and so on, but still you need to go home from time to time. Feel the stability and feel like you belong to some place. I don’t have much stuff in my place, but I need to be on my sofa from time to time.
Have you thought about moving Quaderno to another low cost location, like Southeast Asia?
It’s quite cheap to live and make business here. Canarian companies have special conditions, for example we pay lower taxes than those in the mainland.
We are outside the VAT area so we don’t have to charge VAT to our customers and the corporate taxes are low. I don’t know if it’s cheaper than Southeast Asia but it’s quite cheap. Especially if you compare it to big cities in Europe like Madrid or London.
Would you say that Gran Canaria is an ideal environment for startups?
We are far from big startup hubs like London, Berlin or Barcelona, there are not so many startups here. But in terms of finances, taxes and costs it’s pretty cool. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to create a startup here. And as we have internet we can make business with anybody, no matter where you are.
It’s a good place to create a company. Then at some point if you need to be in a place where all the funds are, maybe you will have to travel to mainland, Berlin or London.
In my case I don’t need to be in London, for example. And I’m bootstrapping this business, I have no external funds so that makes it easier.
This is also why I chose Berlin as my base in the summer. It’s cheaper than other big capitals in Europe and it’s full of creative people, very alternative. It’s so easy to live there, it’s a huge city but you don’t have the feeling like you are living in a crowded place.
You have everything you need there but at the same time you don’t experience that stress you have in metropolitan cities. Madrid, for example, is insane. Everything is in the city center and it’s so crowded.
In Berlin it feels like you have several city centers there. And you can use bike to travel across the city which I really love.
How do you manage your team when you’re outside Gran Canaria?
We are five people and when we work remotely we use Skype, Gmail, Slack to comunicate. I’m remote during the summer and the business development guy is based in Barcelona so he works remotely all the time.
The rest stay in Gran Canaria for most of the time. If you want to travel, you can, because we have everything online, we don’t have to be here in person to do our work.
Is it true that your employees work 5 hours a day but are paid as if they were putting in 8 hours a day?
Yes, we work 5 hours. I have a theory that if you’re really focused on what you do, you do not need much more time to do your job. If you work with your brain, 5 hours of full concentration is a lot of time. After that you cannot think that much.
5 hours of work means no small talks, no chatting, no toxic meetings.
I think it’s much better for the company because people are really focused on what they are doing in the morning and they have the afternoon and evening to do whatever they want. Whether it’s enjoying their friends and family, going to the gym, personal projects…
This way people are really excited to come to the job next morning. They have time to live their own lives. It’s very important to balance work and personal life, it makes your work better. I’m 100% sure about that.
When did you decide to reduce their working hours?
Right from the beginning. When I started working after the high school, I worked 8 hours a day at an intellectual job. I talked to my bosses and asked them to work 5 hours a day. I found out that I was more productive when I was working 5 hours instead of 8.
So when I started working with people in my own company I decided that 5 hours a day will be enough.
It’s also good for startups because at the beginning you don’t have so much money and you cannot pay as much as people are used to when they work 8 hours. And people really like it. All people I talked to during last 10 years wanted to work 5 hours instead of 8, even if they had to earn less money. They preferred having more free time.
You have a pretty active profile on Product Hunt. Can you tell that it helped you with your business?
It really helped me at the beginning when we launched two summers ago. It was a great opportunity to show my project to other product hunters and we got a lot of very useful feedback from other founders and a lot of high quality traffic.
We are not using Product Hunt anymore because we are more focused on other marketing stuff but I think it’s a very good place to launch a product or show beta. You can get a lot of feedback, that’s the most interesting thing about Product Hunt.
What advice would you give to other start upers and founders in early stages who want to bootstrap their business?
If you have a beta, you can launch it on Betalist to get some leads in the newsletter and some beta testers. Then once you have the first version you can launch it on Product Hunt and maybe Hacker News. It’s a bit harder with Hacker News because there is a lot of stuff out there so you need a lot of luck to get featured.
You were involved with both Tech Beaches that Surf Office organized. Could you tell us more?
Peter and I were having a beer two years ago at Las Canteras, trying to find a way to help people develop their projects. I remember telling Peter that I’d like to help others launch their projects. We talked about how we can organize something that could help businesses and startups.
We decided to start with UX and graphic design because that was what we were good at. We launched Tech Beach as a remote consultancy. It’s a mix between UX and design consultancy plus a coliving space and hackathon for two weeks at the beach. The first edition was in October 2014 and it was pretty cool. The second edition was in Lisbon this August with a completely different project. It was so productive and funny to redesign and revamp people’s applications.
When you’re working on projects for a long time sometimes you lose the perspective on what you want to do, where you want to go, what can be improved. In Tech Beach, you get a lot of new ideas in two weeks. We loved to do that and I’m looking forward to the third edition.
Do you have any favorite online tools and apps that help you in your business?
We started to use Slack a year ago because it's really complicated to work with just emails when you are a part of team. I like how it’s open so the whole company can see what other colleagues are saying in real time and everything is free.
Helpscout is perfect for customer support because it’s built on top of email. Instead of having tickets, which is quite complicated for a small company, I prefer to work with HelpScout.
Customers just send you an email and with help management you can classify and prioritize tickets. From a customer’s point of view, they send an email, then they see another one and that’s the conversation for them. For you it’s a bit more powerful because you can work with several projects. People can share tickets, you can assign conversations to other people within the team, it’s pretty cool.
Pipedrive is another really cool project, it’s a sale manager and it’s very useful and easy to use.
Could you recommend some cool places in Las Palmas to hang out?
Las Canteras beach is definitely a place to go. Thursday tapas nights in Vegueta are also interesting, lots of people go there. Other cool places are El Bote and Petit Cafe.
And your personal tips for Berlin?
Betahouse, I just love it and the bar Club Der Visionaere. Another thing I’m going to recommend is neighborhood called Kreuzkölln, which is made up from Kreuzberg and Neukölln streets. It’s one of the most popular areas in Berlin and a lot of digital nomads hang out there. It’s full of coffee shops, coworking places and alternative bars. A really cool place to live.