The first thing you notice when you talk to billionaire Dustin Moskovitz and his business partner Justin Rosenstein is how different they are.Rosenstein is chatty and articulate. Moskovitz is more reserved and thoughtful.
But they share a passion in their startup, Asana. Moskovitz is, of course, famous for being the co-founder of Facebook. Rosenstein is known as the programming wiz who did Facebook’s “Like” button, among other projects.
Asana is a project management Web app that has become uber popular, particularly among tech startups in the Valley.
Like Moskovitz, the app is focused — it is a group to-do/project management tool. Like Rosenstein it is social. Teams communicate with it instead of e-mail.
It’s been around for about six months now and earlier this week, Asana announced its first commercial version. That was a perfect time to chat with Moskovitz, Rosenstein and Asana marketing dude Kenny Van Zant.
Their plan for Asana is nothing less than world domination — in a feel good, change-the-world kind of way.
- The goal is to grow Asana into a huge company. They literally want every worker in the world to use it, much like everyone today uses e-mail.
- They think of Asana as the next-generation of e-mail.
- They believe this software will change the word because it will boost human productivity that much.
- Asana has surprised them with how quickly it became popular. It is now being used by tens of thousands of teams, though Asana hasn’t released specific user numbers.
- The target customer is the enterprise. Asana will remain free for teams of less than 30 people.
- The sales tactic is to sell directly to the teams. Once enough teams adopt, IT will be motivated to come negotiate for the premium version (which includes more features).
- They see this as the new sales model for enterprise software — with teams picking their own tools, rather than IT buying tools for them.
Here’s an edited version of the transcript.
So you launched about six months ago. How has Asana been received so far?
Justin: Things have been been going really well. We’re seeing a ton of momentum, more than I expected so soon to the game. We started Asana because we’re really passionate about helping other groups of people work together to accomplish their goals.
Photo: Flickr/Mari Smith
We are already seeing teams across different industries and especially our own industry adopt Asana. Companies like Airbnb, who are helping to revolutionise travel. Or a company like Foursquare that’s connecting millions of people. To see that we’re already providing the backbone of their organisations is really exciting.We’re excited about this because the opportunity to really improve the world is just enormous. This is a fundamental problem that every every company faces. Every group of people, every organisation. Once you have a group of talented people trying to work on something, the overhead of coordination really slows you down. It cramps the scope of the ideas you take on. You’re not even willing to entertain complex, ambition goals because there’s so many moving pieces you couldn’t even imagine coordinating them all.
How many users do you have?
Kenny: We launched in November. At that time we had hundreds of teams using the product. Today we have tens of thousands of teams using the product. It’s been big growth.
Justin: Maybe more exciting is that of people who do adopt, 75% of them are retained. Over 25% of our weekly active users use the product every single day, Monday through Friday. Both that 25% number and that 75% number are pretty unheard of. In terms of things that people keep open all day, there’s pretty much only e-mail and calendar. Then there’s a CRM tool that maybe sales will keep open all day. But to have a tool that’s horizontal that people are using day in/day out for communication — Asana is becoming the home page of their work.
What is your bigger plan with Asana? Do you dream of selling it? Are you hoping to build a giant business with this?
Justin: The goal is to help every single organisation on the planet be able to coordinate their collective action more easily.
So you won’t be happy until every single organisation on the planet is using Asana?
Justin: It’s very similar to how Facebook wants to connect everyone in the world and that’s a long-term ambition. And similarly, Microsoft wanted to put a PC on every desk. So yeah, our ambition is in that category.We think every organisation, every person who does work with groups can benefit from this software, just like email has become, in a short period of time, this ubiquitous platform for people to communicate.
That’s not only a huge opportunity to benefit the world, but an enormous business opportunity. So we’re not looking at this from the perspective of selling. We’re looking at building a long term, built-to-last, very successful business that solves a really important problem that also has a lot of monetary value associated with it.
The idea that we can improve the efficiency of every team by 1% let alone double it or 10X is just an enormous opportunity to advance human progress.
So, on Tuesday, you launched a commercial version, tell me about that.
Justin: There’s some premium functionality that also goes with that. Now we’re going to be making revenue but I think the more exciting news is that there’s a bunch of things that has gone into that in terms of scaling the product and making it more usable for bigger teams. We’ve piloted with Foursquare with 150 people on it. Before Asana was helping fairly small teams. As of yesterday we opened it up to much larger teams, a much larger scale to coordinate. We’re prepared for companies of any size to come and sign up.
We launched, in four business days, five new features: the API, user photos ( you can see the person’s face), a new user [training tool] when they first come onboard. We launched the premium version and also project-level permissions which comes with upgrading.
Dustin: We’re in a special early time where we are gaining our stride in product improvements. In spite of releasing a bunch of improvements that we’ve been working on a really long time, we have a bunch more on deck that will be released in the next couple of months. The product will be improving rapidly.
How do you plan to sell the premium version?
With our distribution model, we don’t expect the IT head for a giant company to come and sign up.
We’re thinking about this from a bottoms-up perspective — and this is behaviour we have seen already. You have a big company where maybe a few different teams, at a size of maybe 20 [users], each adopts Asana, sometimes not even knowing about each other. Then the news will trickle up to the IT team and they’ll say they just want to roll Asana out to the entire company.
That kind of bottoms up model is just starting to happen in the enterprise world. I think we’re really pushing the envelope on that new distribution model.
Well, I don’t know that rogue software coming in — or in this case, rogue services — is a new distribution model. But it becoming more common. So are you guys going to get an enterprise sales force together?
Kenny: We do have a sales team, but we don’t plan on bringing on an “enterprise” sales team. An enterprise sales force is typically using e-mails and contacts and relationships to do benefits-based selling into a group that’s not even using the product at all.
Our sales organisation is about making teams be successful and then turning those successful teams into ones that are big enough to pay for the product. So it’s a different type of sales motion.
Justin: It’s very important to us that the IT team not feel like their hands are tied and they are being forced into a sale. The product will remain free for teams under 30. It’s more that we’re providing enough value for upgrading the whole company or much larger teams so the IT departments say, “Hey, we’re really excited to see this upgrade.”
I would describe Asana as project management kind-of tool for people that wouldn’t necessarily adopt the formal tools like Microsoft Project. Is that how you see it?
Justin: Yes, it bears a lot of resemblance to some project management tools but the way that people use it is very different. People have been printing memos in offices for ages. E-mail didn’t make memos faster, e-mail changed how business works today. But e-mail has hit a wall with the complexity of projects we can organise with e-mail.
Dustin: The salient difference between Asana and the software that’s come before is that all of the individual contributors use it. It’s the place where you have conversations with your coworkers.
Justin: Let me give me an anecdote. We have one customer called Emerald Therapeutics. Their mission is to end disease. They were started by two top bio scientists and have a lab of other top scientists. The founders had gotten to the point where the overhead of managing the lab was consuming 100% of time. They stopped doing science altogether. They adopted Asana and now 75% of time has gone back to doing science and and only 25% is doing management.
When Business Insider first reviewed the program when it launched, we found it to be a confusing design. Can you talk to me about the design choices you made?
Justin: In general, we hear the opposite. That it’s simple to use. It’s important to point out that this is a tricky balance to strike. Asana is also a powerful tool, there is lots of things you can do with it. So trying to marry that kind of power with the simplicity of how to get up and running is a really hard problem. But in the last six months, we made improvements in the UI. Now a new user, rather than greeted with a blank page, is walked through a tour.
Kenny: The proof around how easy it is to use is how broadly the tool has been adopted in a number of different industries. We have tech teams using it but also retail, the management of an NFL team, law firms, construction companies, a very diverse set of industries. We hear that people spend less than five minutes learning the tool.