Asana

Facebook co-founder's bid to replace email

May 1, 2013: 11:05 AM ET

Startup Asana has attracted a lot of buzz. Now it's shooting for the big leagues.

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FORTUNE -- Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz generated a lot of buzz -- and funding -- when he left the social networking giant in 2008 to take on the less glitzy world of enterprise software. High-profile investors like Ron Conway, Peter Thiel, and venture capital firms Andreessen-Horowitz and Benchmark Capital all poured money into Moskovitz's idea: Asana, a task-management tool that aspires to replace office email. In total, the small company has raised $38.5 million.

It took Moskovitz and co-founder Justin Rosenstein -- a former tech lead at Facebook (FB) -- a couple of years to launch the initial version of their product. Now, the team is readying Asana for the big leagues, adding enterprise-grade features like administration controls that let IT set security policies and manage user activity on the site. The hope is that the startup will now be able to attract not just small teams but groups of hundreds or even thousands of employees at a time. And the larger plan: to replace email altogether. Of course, they're not the only ones hoping to position their product as an alternative to sending spreadsheets back and forth (seriously, email is so early aughts). And while the Facebook credentials no doubt helped Moskovitz and Rosenstein land an impressive roster of investors, it won't necessarily seal the deal with large corporate customers.

"They've got a lot riding on Dustin's name," says Alan Lepofsky, an analyst with Constellation Research.

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Until now, Asana has mainly attracted smaller companies, including Silicon Valley startups like Dropbox, Uber, and Airbnb, which have all signed on to use its web-based software for managing projects. But it's not just for technology companies. Users can manage any type of task -- from event-planning to prepping for board meetings -- by assigning members specific duties and deadlines and communicating with their team by posting updates for everyone to see. With Asana's new features --announced Wednesday morning -- employees will also be able to browse through all of the teams (groups of people working on joint projects) in their organization. Those who are part of multiple teams can now get all of their tasks in a single inbox. And, importantly, IT administrators will be able to view and manage user activity and allow or deny access for employees.

The company says tens of thousands of teams already use Asana, including some Fortune 500 enterprises (then again, many so-called "freemium" business software companies claim large corporate customers -- all it takes are a few registered users within a company). Asana also claims that half of its weekly users use it as much as email. But it's not clear whether customers are actually decreasing their use of email because of Asana. Take Adam Lawrence, director of operations at wealth management software provider Addepar, who says his company has been using Asana for two years and that he always has the web-based task management tool "up next to my Gmail in a separate tab." On the plus side: "Every employee at Addepar uses it," says Lawrence. "Even those that refuse to log into extra systems."

So how big can Asana get? Clearly, Moskovitz and Rosenstein can scale a product. "These guys know how to build for millions of people," says Lepofsky, the Constellation Research analyst. Then again, Asana is a standalone product in an industry where many larger companies (including Salesforce (CRM) and Citrix (CTXS)) have folded their own project management tools into a larger set of offerings. That means the company will not only have to keep adding features to entice corporations, they'll also need to increase partnerships and plug-ins with other software tools already in use within companies -- yet another task for Asana to manage.

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