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Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz unveils new company, Asana

Asana

Facebook veterans Dustin Moskovitz and Justin Rosenstein on Wednesday took the wraps off their highly anticipated new company, which aims to help people work more efficiently.

Asana is a Web task manager that lets teams of people manage their work flow by breaking projects into tasks. Much the same way that Facebook helps manage how people connect with each other, Asana is designed to manage how people work with one another by becoming the one place everyone can see what their colleagues are working on and get updates on how a project is progressing.

Moskovitz and Rosenstein say they think of it as the modern way of working.

Moskovitz, a self-taught programmer, and his roommate Mark Zuckerberg dropped out of Harvard to build Facebook into the world's most popular social network.

As the company grew, Moskovitz, Facebook's vice president of engineering, found himself spending more time trying to stay on top of managing hundreds of new employees. He shared his frustrations with colleague Rosenstein, a gifted programmer who was intrigued with figuring out better ways for teams to collaborate.

While at Facebook, Moskovitz created a program that helped Facebook employees build apps. Then he added more productivity tools, all of which Facebook still uses today.

In 2008, Moskovitz, at 27 the world's youngest billionaire, and Rosenstein left Facebook to tackle the project full time on their own. They began building work productivity and collaboration tools not just for Facebook but for companies, nonprofits, artistic endeavors, anyone who needed them.

"At some point we realized that this was not just a problem for Facebook and tech start-ups, this was a problem that was fundamental to all human behavior: how to keep everyone on the same page," Rosenstein said in an interview this week. "There is rich information squirreled way in people's heads and their inboxes. There is nowhere to go to see what people are working on now, what people have done recently and how far a project is from the finish line."

But Asana's founders say they are not creating Facebook for business.

"Facebook is social software that puts people at the center of the graph. Asana puts work at the center of the graph," Rosenstein said.

It's an ambitious gambit for a young start-up. Moskovitz and Rosenstein are newcomers to the competitive business of selling business software. Asana is going after the lucrative businesses of technology giants such as Microsoft that have been making productivity and collaboration software for years. Google has also been making inroads in business software with Google Docs. Other upstart rivals include Salesforce.com, Yammer and Jive which have sprung up more recently.

But Moskovitz and Rosenstein say the cumbersome and slow software that most companies produce has not convinced people to stop relying on email and Post It notes to plan tasks and keep up with their colleagues on a project.

"Other people have tried to crack this nut before. All the solutions are fundamentally failing. We know that because no one has adopted them, even companies that pay for fancy collaboration software, it just sits on the shelf," Rosenstein said.

Asana, which has 19 employees in San Francisco's Mission District and has raised $10.2 million from investors including Benchmark Capital and Andreessen Horowitz, has been beta testing the software since last year with thousands of users at hundreds of companies. One of those companies is the sports and entertainment talent agency Wasserman Media Group, which uses it to organize its executive team.

Asana is taking an unconventional approach to promoting its business software. Usually a company's top IT manager buys productivity software. Asana is giving away its software free to groups of up to 30 people in hopes that once employees become enamored with the software, they will persuade their companies to buy a paid version with more features that Asana plans to release down the road.

"We think the best software will win," Rosenstein said.

So how does the experience of building Asana compare to Facebook?

"I feel much more experienced. I have a better network this time. I have been able to draw on the experience to more proactively shape the company I want to work at," Moskovitz said. "A lot of things are very similar, too: the ethos of the company and how we approach building products, the kind of values we have, and what it's like to work here."

"Certainly we think this is one of the very key things we could be doing in software. We think it will be as impactful on the world as Facebook was."

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-- Jessica Guynn

Photo: Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz, left, and Justin Rosenstein, founders of Asana. Credit: Asana

 
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