Chris Farinacci has made his way through Silicon Valley, working for enterprise tech institutions that, today, have become household names. As the CMO for Google for Work and Google for Education, Chris scaled both divisions into multi-billion-dollar businesses.
Before that, as Vice President of Application Marketing at Oracle, he gained valuable experience in product marketing and marketing strategy for the Oracle supply chain, as well as managing product lifecycle, procurement, manufacturing, and applications.
For more than two and a half decades, Chris has worked in the tech industry including B2B, enterprise IT, and SaaS. Now, as the COO of Asana, he is combining these time-and-again proven global skills to build Asana into the most sought-after work management tool on the market. After having witnessed the evolution of work styles and management practices in companies like Oracle and Google, he is helping hundreds of businesses use Asana to find the clarity and organization they need to get back to the work that matters most.
Beginning in the early 2000s, Chris began cultivating an aptitude for global and product marketing as Marketing Director at i2 Technologies and later as a Senior Vice President at Agile Software. Heading into 2007, Chris was the VP of Application Marketing at Oracle, the now multibillion-dollar tech corporation, where he was responsible for product marketing strategy for Oracle’s supply chain and more. Chris then served as Chief Marketing Officer of Google for almost five years, leading the global marketing team in the scaling of Google’s enterprise and education businesses across the globe.
The legacy he leaves behind at Google is one of intuitive products that work for small business founders and educators alike, meeting the needs of more than 5 million business users in G-Suite, and more than 80 million educators and students who utilize Google Classroom to foster creative education structures. These functions would become imperative in his function as COO of Asana, where he oversees the deployment of Asana into new markets. Chris has been heading up go-to-market teams and business organization at Asana for just over four years now. As the guiding voice for sales, marketing, business development and customer operations initiatives, Chris is finely attuned to not only what the Asana SaaS user wants, but what they need to be successful.
After all, at the heart of the Asana mission is the drive to not just be another SaaS product, but to improve the business operations and drive increases in operational work efficiency for the customers they serve. The Silicon Valley SaaS company created a work management platform that is integral to the organizational infrastructure of startups and tech giants all over the world—from small businesses, to giants like Uber, to, as he puts it, an as-yet-unannounced but quite ‘progressive’ insurance company. Asana helps people reduce the time they spend on “work about work”, by streamlining the process of project coordination. Users can assign projects, set deadlines, give updates, and integrate the platform with whatever tools the company uses to communicate, coordinate, and create templates—just like Uber has, outlining its repeatable strategy for launching into new markets.
Asana provides organizations an opportunity to reclaim their core values of transparency, collaboration, and accountability by eliminating chaos and confusion which can quickly built up and paralyze the success of a business. The B2B—and increasingly B2C—project management platform began as a tool to organize Facebook internally, and has grown into a competitive edge among incumbents like Sony and Uber. Chris delves into why work management is the next groundbreaking SaaS market, which is currently at what he predicts to be less than 3% penetration. Let’s find out how exactly Asana is becoming a global leader in work management and the B2B SaaS market, direct from Chris Farinacci himself.
What does Asana stand for, not just as a product, but as another way of working? It seems as though you are even more than just a work management tool. So, I wanted to know a bit about the philosophy behind the company.
I have been in that space now for nine or 10 years, and as I think about productivity and collaboration, I remember that for 20 years there was a monopoly called Microsoft Office, and it worked great. There really were very few alternatives in the 80s, 90s and into the 2000s.
90%+ of corporate America used Office for nearly everything related to productivity. The biggest changes over the last 10 to 12 years come in part due to market forces, as well as cloud, mobile, enablers, and consumerization, as well as the fact that in a previous era, Microsoft really wasn’t focused on innovation. One particularly significant change has been a focus on productivity going from individual productivity, to collaboration and teams.
So, that all shifted and here we are today. Every company around those categories of communication, collaboration, and productivity, has a Google or a Microsoft as its core, usually for email and calendar and lots of times for document creation. Then there are these best in breed companies around that have filled in the cracks to solve problems in a new way. The way we see it and even hear it played back to us, regardless of the category alphabet soup, vendors and analysts, is that there are three main buckets of important considerations in productivity. These are: how employees work, communicate, and connect.
This sweet spot in companies has changed dramatically. For one thing, email moved to the Cloud. Five or 10 years ago, you couldn’t check it on your phone—you would have had to check it from a desktop computer nailed to your desk. Then it went to the rise and fall of enterprise social. Slack and group chat has been the sweet spot of that for a couple of years now. It seems to everybody I talk to that now, the must-have is moving beyond that to video conferencing. It looks like Zoom is going to be the best in breed guy there. Those are the technologies your employees use to connect and communicate.
Then there’s this other bucket that is well established around how your employees create and share content, files, and digital stuff together. Then there’s the creation side, which is everything from Office 365 and Google Docs, to all the vertical tools like Adobe and the CAD Guys in engineering and Pick Your Vertical, or DocuSign for signing off on it. These have all have moved to co-creation of content together. Then there’s the sharing side, which are Box and Dropbox (for which Google and Microsoft have products as well).
Pretty much everybody creates and shares files and content in this way. What has emerged from the market’s perspective, over the last four or five years and now over the last few years as the hot next thing in productivity and collaboration, is what we and others call, work management. On top of this, we have the unstructured communication and content tools providing real-time clarity and accountability and coordination for work.
When you have a goal, a process, a project, a plan—when you have things where you need to coordinate or orchestrate a team of people to get something done, you can’t do that solely with those other tools. You need a system, a record that integrates with those products but manages the entire project flow. Editorial calendars in newsrooms are a really popular use case for us. A lot of different publications and media use us for things like managing the life cycle, the story, managing the editorial board, and managing the editorial calendar.
If you think about the complexity of projects like this, you can’t just have a Slack room and magically expect all of that to happen. As you’re writing an article, how do you coordinate, what’s the record of coordination between Asana and everyone else you’re talking to? If there’s artwork, who’s doing it, if there’s backchecking, who’s doing it? Then, how do you reuse that next time you go do this somewhere else. How do you templatize that?
The last thing I’ll say that’s driving this need for the functionality of what we’re broadly calling work management, are things like the democratization of projects, processes, portfolios and OKRs. Work management provides more time for people to spend on the work that matters and less time on what we call ‘work-about-work,’ which is the time people spend trying to coordinate and figure out who’s doing what and how things don’t fall through the cracks. Our mission is to give workers time back from that work-about-work, to focus on the work that matters.
What we found is that because workers spend so much time on adoption of all these other tools, people’s attention at work is incrementally driving the need for work management. Now, we as a society talk and write about the distraction economy at home. It’s worse at work. Not only are people getting pinged by their email box (and resultingly prisoners to it), but if their group chat is saying there are notifications from five tools on top of SMS, employees feel like they’re being bombarded and just reacting to the latest ping every five minutes. Versus, if they know what work matters, most of that distraction goes away and they can just focus on the work that matters. That’s why we feel work management is more than just a product—in today’s employees’ crowded attention spans, it’s more important than ever.
That’s very interesting to hear that it’s moved from individual to teams and collaboration to now spend time on work that matters. How do you guys talk to each other at Asana? For example, how would you reach over and just ask someone a question?
It’s interesting. Internally, we’re power users of Asana. We now have more than 70,000 paying customers—that is, discrete organizations that use it, on top of the two to three million free ones that have signed up since we’ve been around. We have this huge base of customers and we’re very much adopted bottoms-up. It’s a viral thing that grows efficiently, but sort of bottoms-up.
Once we get to a critical mass, what I’ve been doing is building out a go-to-market team on top of that to help consolidate the use, whether that is in a part of a company or company-wide. We are a company that uses Asana all in, as a lot of valley companies or disruptor companies do. The Fortune 500 don’t use Asana companywide yet—we’re just moving in that direction. Some awesome pockets of those companies do, however.
In terms of how we use Asana: I don’t use email at all internally. We use email externally. We do use Slack, which is a big partner of ours. Google along with most of the valley disruptors and modern companies say they run on the GAS stack. The GAS stack is Google, Asana and Slack, and we are very much the same. We use Google calendar for scheduling and G-mail for emailing the external world. Internally for communication, we use Asana for the work that matters.
What that structure accomplishes is tying the conversations to the work so when you want to reuse that conversation, it becomes a system of record when work is a plan, project, or process. We also use Slack for quick conversations that don’t need to be tracked and are one-off unstructured instances. This behavior becoming typical, because Slack is such a great tool for connecting and communicating. Imagine, however, that you want to templatize the life cycle, the story or editorial calendar and reuse it next year. How could you possibly do that from a chat room in Slack?
Has Asana intentionally evolved into a market leader within the work management space, and do you see it as a pivotal aspect of the company’s scaling power?
It’s a highly intentional evolution. Most of our opportunity is still in front of us, but it’s interesting to know where we currently stand, how we got here and where we’re going.
Last year we blew past $100 million in ARR. We did something I’d never pulled off before. At the end of the year, we’re going well over 90% and we’ve been growing. Our growth rate has gone up each of the last eight quarters. Usually, as you get bigger, your growth rate slows. Ours has gotten faster. Now that won’t last forever, that’s impossible, but it’s key to note that it’s not just Asana—it’s this category and this need right now, which is super hot in the market.
“Pretty much everybody creates and shares files and content in this way. What has emerged from the market’s perspective, over the last four or five years and now over the last few years as the hot next thing in productivity and collaboration, is what we and others call, work management.”
Companies that are using all these other tools are certainly getting the benefit of optimizing work through SaaS tools, but the problem is that there’s just a huge lack of clarity. Before using a tool like this and getting the whole team on board, it is really difficult to know if everyone on your team just knows what to work on, trusts each other to work on the right thing, give visibility and work on the work matters. With Asana you’re not spending any time trying to figure out who’s doing what, or making sure work’s not falling through the cracks.
That’s why I’m here, and that is, to a certain extent, the Asana mission, and that’s where we are in scale.
Scaling Asana is different from anything I’ve ever done. Even in the horizontal space, like Google or Microsoft, they’re selling to whole companies, whether small (which is Google’s specialty) or large (which is Microsoft’s specialty) because an owner buys 365 for the whole company, particularly things like email, or calendar. What Asana is doing, which is also what Slack, Zoom, Dropbox and Atlassian are doing, is focusing on driving adoption bottoms-up in companies, very virally.
PRICING AND SALES STRATEGY
We have a freemium model that starts on a free account and then naturally moves you into a paid product, and that is all self-serve. We grew to hundreds of users in the early days at the Ubers and AirBnbs (the big companies) without actually interacting with them as humans. A lot of that is product and marketing-driven, and the goal is to get seated in as many companies as possible.
Word-of-mouth is our strongest driver of demand in that business. We’ve had a product out in the market somewhere over six years now. In the beginning, it was just self-serve, and now we are very intentionally building a three-tiered sales model. Slack and Zoom have the most similar business model to us—self-serve is not just for small businesses. Self-serve is about landing in teams, in companies of all sizes, and always has been.
As those teams start to grow virally inside companies, we bring in sales, marketing, customer success, and go to market it. Then, on top of that, starting maybe four years ago we built out something of an online sales and go-to-market team for high volume. That’s largely transactional, helping customers buy and adopt. That converted from market to science in year two, and it’s now coming along really well.
Additionally on top of that, in the last year we have been building out a solution sales team, which evolved to an enterprise team, so those two functions are consolidated. If we get to 30% of a client’s big marketing team with those first two departments, that’s building a relationship with the CMO to use Asana for all of marketing. That, or a small-or-midsize company might see the CEO using Asana for making OKRs real for the whole company. That’s a very deliberate journey.
From an industry perspective, growth is horizontal, but we’ve seen growing traction over time. In the beginning, it was early adopters which means that tech companies and most of the disrupters run on Asana. Then we started following the Cloud and SaaS adoption curves. So, you would see the option in travel and transportation, media, entertainment, retail and CPG.
What’s interesting is because it’s bottoms up, you also see adoption by team, which is new for me. What we see in marketing to comms teams, PM teams or design teams you have to understand that they tend to adopt before supply chain, operation, manufacturing, sales, legal and compliance teams. Lastly on that, we don’t focus on just one function or industry. We are quite broadly used, but our initial sweet spot is marketing, which makes up probably, I would say a quarter to a third of demand. So, we packaged up an Asana solution specifically and broadly for marketing and creative teams at the beginning of this year and as a result we are seeing tons of traction, specifically in marketing and creative.
Then globally, it’s interesting because of the business model, we had gotten to the point where 40% of our revenue and 45% of our new customers were coming from outside the US, maybe two years ago, without really doing anything organically from the US or in English. Having noticed that, about two years ago, we started really investing. Last year we launched fully into Europe, meaning all functional teams on the ground, localized product, localized currency, localized website in certain countries. Initially, these languages are French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese.
At the end of the last year, we opened an office in Sydney, and we are now opening an office in Japan to repeat the same strategy in Asia, but focused. We really are seeing insanely strong demand outside the US, but we’re only less than two years into doing that in a structured strategic way, so a lot of that is still in front of us.
I want to know if you were surprised by any productivity stats or insights behind how users use the tool. Do these insights point to anything that we’re doing wrong at work? How can we use or how can we just be more effective in managing ourselves in our projects? Should everyone be a project manager?
I love that question. A few things on that. The way most people see Asana is as the democratizing project and workflow management and now portfolio manage. It used to be in big companies you would have this PMO office. This PMO office is like professional project managers that the company puts on the biggest, most strategic projects. The biggest launch of the year in a company was done through big heavy Gantt charts and several other consulting tools.
The world is moving really fast. The way we—and all of our customers see it today is that anybody who manages a team, process or a project is a project manager by default. They have to get people aligned and coordinated around work and they don’t have time for all that noise, right? So, it needs to be simple, and the software needs to take care of it. They don’t have time for professional project managers anymore.
At its core, I think that’s how the world sees this category and sees companies like Asana as democratizing those things so that anyone can do it pretty easily. They have to because disruption’s happening, the world is moving so fast and people are asked to do more and more every day.
Now, as far as whether there is any kind of psychological or productivity stats and insights behind how users are using the tool that can help us. There are a couple of things here. We see Asana as the solution by way of two avenues: the product the methodology. We actually have a thought-leadership site called Wavelength where we, our partners and customers publish quite a bit of methodology around the way they use the product. It’s a different way of working and it requires some change management.
The most common thing we talk about and aspire to internally, (and which a lot of our leading edge customers are moving towards) is what is called the Pyramid of Clarity. Now to understand the Pyramid of Clarity it is important to note that there is a growing popularity within McKinsey, Deloitte and other consulting and strategic management consulting engagements about how to help executives drive goals, deal with disruption and be more efficient. A lot of that focus has obviously been on digital transformation for bigger companies. Recently, however, a lot of it has shifted to OKRs (objective key results) as this sort of magic to get everyone aligned on goals.
If you have a tool like Asana, or another work management tool that is actually managing the work, helping you plan the work and coordinate and track against the work that’s going on, you can then connect it to portfolios and dashboards, giving everyone a real-time view of not just whether the work is on track at an executive level, but as an employee or a team lead, you can look up and ask, “Am I working on the things that connect to the company’s goals? Am I working on the things that connect to the company’s mission?”
Basically, answer the question “What work matters today and what work doesn’t matter today?” That is our methodology. To get to that level, it takes top-down buy-in, usually starts in a team (or a couple teams), then moves to divisional buy-in and moves forward from there. Publishing Wavelength is a key way we get companies to adopt that methodology. We have a whole customer success team—a user education team—that packages that up simply and digitally, or can interact live to help the account figure that stuff out. Then in terms of stats we actually just surveyed 6,000 knowledge workers in the US, UK and Australia. It’s an interesting insight into the ways that people are feeling more and more burnout, with less visibility they have into their workload. To help solve for that we actually just published Workload, which offers users visibility into the capacity of their teams.
More broadly, we survey our base and we’ve done some really interesting market surveys here and in the UK. We surveyed our base 12-18 months ago and 3,000 people responded saying on average they are 45% more efficient, which is a big number.
It’s self-reported by companies. It’s not hard measured, so they’re self-reporting it. To give you some tangible examples from customers, one of our largest customers is an insurance company. They use us for thousands of us users and they basically use us for bringing agile to any part of the company.
What’s interesting is the metric. The metric there is, they say on average they save an hour and a half a day per employee, and that’s from status meetings. Like all these big companies spend, heck, I worked at Google, you spend half of your time in status meetings trying to figure out who’s doing what. If that’s available digitally accurately enough to date, most of that goes away. An example that is out there that’s older but super relevant is Uber. Uber is one of our first big users, and they use us for many different functions, but their secret sauce is City Launch.
When they launch into a new market, how quickly and efficiently they do that is their competitive advantage versus others. They have been doing that with Asana for three or four years. It’s an Asana template of 300 or 400 tasks, other lessons and learning materials. Since they began employing the template, they can now launch four times faster than they used to be able to. That ability to launch four times faster in a new market is a giant value proposition, and there are lots of those kinds of metrics.
It usually comes down to time, and time can be either time saved or helping you to get to market faster. The other one is around engagement and burnout. We’re seeing a lot of traction around, you’ll even see it in this research we share, basically executives are asking teams to do more with less and do it faster and the team’s feeling more and more burnout every day. How you bridge those things is really the crux of where we’re focused.
THE SAAS BUSINESS MODEL OF THE NEXT DECADE
Last year we saw a massive basket of IPOs, this year it was not quite as big, but this year’s not over yet. Will 2020 be an IPO window or kind of an M&A heavy market? Who will the biggest valuations go to?
I’m definitely not an investor or economist but I hear from them all the time. If I put the perspectives I hear in a blender, what I hear back is continued optimism. Multiples are really high right now, but SaaS, in particular, is a valuable component because of the recurring revenue streams and dependability and efficiency that can be in those models as something that can weather the storm more if things go down, particularly those that help efficiency and cost not just time. Those would help the bottom line and the top line with their categories or missions that are even better positioned. Those that have a moat are better positioned. If you just look in our categories, companies in the work management sector tend to perform well because there’s such a strong belief that this is a new way of working.
It is not a commodity. It is not a package thing that Google or Microsoft can just copy. It has taken all of us many years to figure out how to build sustainable work management and it has a competitive advantage to it. I’m bullish on Asana and on this space as a whole—similar to what I was saying earlier about video conferencing. If you ask me, the next two spaces where early adopters and disruptors are seeing massive value, but is just crossing the chasm, are video conferencing and work management. Zoom just came out, so I think work managers just a step behind that. That’s my take. In collaboration and productivity broadly, those are the two hot things for a lot of the reasons we talked about.
We do get the sense that SaaS is such a resilient model exactly because it isn’t a commodity and, of course, that recurring revenue.
I speak about this a lot, and the thing that’s particularly fun and interesting for me is this is an overstated stereotype. To me, we’re entering the third chapter of enterprise business model and go to market. The first chapter was top-down enterprise selling. That was really the only game in town for a couple of decades. SAP, Oracle, Microsoft, and Salesforce now take up that part of the market. That was good in a lot of ways, but there are challenges with predictability (unless you get to a really big scale) and there are downsides to the upsides too. A lot of the downside, frankly, has been that the user experience sucks (which is what drove consumerization), as well as the cultures in the enterprise companies being very sales-centric.
Then came the next generation around consumerization, which contained Google, Dropbox, Apple and others. Consumerization brought about an age in which companies that primarily provide consumer technology see strong demand.
A lot of good came from consumerization in that products actually focused on users, so user experience improved, but the concern arose around whether those companies really prioritize B2B and enterprise. There’s some truth to the argument that they don’t. Their first and second priorities are the consumer. On top of that, the culture in those companies tends to be very much engineering at the top and sales at the bottom.
Finally, there is this third generation of companies of fast selling and go-to-market. Actually, really this next generation is the SaaS business model, really.
I would put Asana, Slack, and Zoom in this category, which is very intentionally a hybrid model. It’s first and foremost building a viral bottom-up structure and then over time, building the go-to-market on top of the model, and then scaling up intentionally to become a big, holistic company in an intentional way. The way to think of it is that it’s not a pivot, it’s an add. It requires a really balanced culture in companies, as well as equal side R&D, sales, and marketing—as opposed to a culture that is really driven by one or the other.
Generational SaaS evolution is fascinating to me, because I think that this hybrid business model is the business model of the next decade for enterprise. It is proving to be the way teams want to adopt new technologies, and businesses are adapting to the best methods of getting their product through the gates. It’s important to understand how sales strategies have evolved over time, because it points to the evolution in how people, teams and ultimately businesses are open to adopting new products and platforms.
“If you have a tool like Asana, or another work management tool that is actually managing the work, helping you plan the work and coordinate and track against the work that’s going on, you can then connect it to portfolios and dashboards, giving everyone a real-time view of not just whether the work is on track at an executive level, but as an employee or a team lead, you can look up and ask, “Am I working on the things that connect to the company’s goals? Am I working on the things that connect to the company’s mission?”
BUILDING FROM CULTURE: ASANA’S FOUNDING STORY
It’s good that we can think of these as scaling up in an intentional way. Adding on B2C to B2B, moving into whole company expansion. So, moving back to how company culture is changing with the evolution of the business model, how does incorporating a democratized project management model change how companies work, how they make money, and the culture within them?
I give you the founding story of Asana. Dustin, our CEO was one of the co-founders of Facebook, and moved to Palo Alto to help the company scale in the early days. Dustin, along with a guy named Justin—who was basically one of the youngest product managers at Google and then Facebook, about a decade ago when Facebook was just scaling up into a real business and growing really, really fast—discovered that they had this problem on the technical teams that resonates with everybody: they realized the people on the engineering and technical teams were spending more time trying to coordinate on work about work than actual coding and building software. So, they built an internal solution.
It was so successful, a couple of things happened. First: Facebook still runs on it. It still makes up a large portion of their competitive advantage on the engineering team. Second: these guys knew they wanted to go do something beyond Facebook with their lives. This way, instead of picking a passion like sustainability or education or healthcare, they figured, “Wow, if we can rebuild our project management tool for the market expand it and expand it so that other industries can get 5% or 10% of their time back towards their mission and purpose, that’s the most leveraged thing we could ever do.
So, they founded the company with the mission stated as, “Helping teams collaborate effortlessly, work together effortlessly.” Really, what that comes down to is reducing work-about-work and giving you time back to focus on the work that matters. They founded the company to do just that, and this is written about a lot, but we’re a very culture-focused company.
When they founded the company, they knew they were in a privileged position to define the company they wanted to work at for the next 20 years. So, before they even built a prototype of the product, they actually defined the early version of the culture, the values and the operating structure of the company. They took X from McKinsey, Y from Apple and Z from Google. Of course, Dustin and Justin are product guys, so we have been iterating on that ever since. Culture and values were defined before the company accomplished anything else, and we’ve been very intentional about that since then.
We have what we call culture bugs. We are constantly looking at our values, cultural elements and iterating on them, all while knowing that the only thing that’s sacred is the mission. Everything else is free to evolve. At its core, culture is the interactions of all our employees every day. That’s what both defines the culture and allows it to evolve.
I would also add that the Pyramid of Clarity is highly important to our company. Now, this applies to clarity of who is doing what, when, and how everyone’s work and responsibilities map to the purpose and goals of the company. This is the value that we are providing to other companies. Our clients absolutely say they’re getting the financial benefits, like efficiency and time. But even more so, we are getting the engagement benefits.
Consider how digital transformation companies have gone from, “How do we compete with Google and Tesla and Netflix and Amazon?” to the first level of sales engagement—which is exactly what drove all of Google’s and Microsoft’s sales. CEOs just want to bring in modern tools that millennials don’t reject, so they can hire them more successfully.
Employees want to work for companies with purposes and missions they believe in, but they are now taking that one step further in that they want to know how their work ladders up to the purposes and goals of the company. As I mentioned earlier, employees want to know that they are working on projects that matter to the company, and they want to have that to be real-time. They really want to understand that and prioritize that way. That’s ultimately what we do for companies. They certainly reap the financial benefits, and then it becomes how you coordinate a whole company to align them on the goals and purpose of the company, or a whole team. It’s both parts of that answer.
Underlying the building of a company is this seeming pressure to be a Silicon Valley Unicorn at all costs, and let culture go by the wayside. We know that culture is not ping pong tables and coconut water. It is those day to day interactions like you said.
I think what’s fascinating is, it’s all so easy to talk about when you’re a young company. It’s really hard to talk about when you’re a Fortune 500, 50-100-year-old company, right? I’ll give you an example. One of our five largest customers is Viessmann, which is a 100-year-old German manufacturer of HVAC, privately owned by 12,000 employees. The CEO of Viessmann is the grandson of the first CEO, and he is quite a modern guy, working on digital transformation as well as becoming the model for big companies in Germany.
The first technology he used to help deploy the enabling of that digital transformation was Google Apps. Now, if the idea is to provide tools that younger people don’t reject basically, in come the Asanas of the market, right? To be a modern company, we must shape and change our mission, our values, and our goals and everyone needs to play a part and know what that is. It is easier in these young upstarts, but I think the most exciting thing is the ability to bring a young, fresh ethos to these old companies that are really hard to move. That’s the real opportunity for me.
How many employees are at Asana now?
A little over 580 and we will be known as 700 by the end of the year, so we’re growing really fast.
Are there any key things you look for in an interview or when you hire someone?
Oh sure, I absolutely look for certain things. We are competing with the top companies in tech. It is not just the valley, either because tech companies in key places like Dublin, Sydney and New York, are in the game searching for the top talent. Some of the characteristics we’re looking for are the same as these other companies: the brightest, smartest, EQ, IQ, courage, risk-taking—all those key characteristics. Where it gets interesting is the things that are so uniquely Asana. Broadly, this consists of being very mission-aligned. If you are not mission-aligned and mission-driven, it won’t work. Ultimately, what we sell and what we are trying to provide to companies and teams is clarity. A desire to seek out clarity, not hide from it. Wanting to drive this mission forward toward clarity is crucial.
GLOBAL TECH HUBS
Where are the global tech hubs evolving now? We get answers from a wide range of unexpected places, and always like to ask.
San Francisco is headquarters for us. From a go-to-market perspective, we have a hub in Dublin that is now a couple of years old and will reach 100 people by the end of the year. That is our hub for Europe. Most of Europe and language can be supported from there. We also have a couple small field offices opening elsewhere in Europe in order to help support customers locally.
Our Asian hub is in Sydney to support the Asian market and essentially, English-speaking Asia. Following on from there, we are opening an office in Tokyo specifically to support the Japanese market (we just hired a Japanese lead). From the development side, we have a maturing hub in New York, where we also have some go-to market folks, but that primarily remains an R&D center. More recently, we opened an R&D center in Vancouver, which is growing rapidly. We also have a small R&D center in Iceland actually, which is unique.
Of course, hiring remote workers is a growing phenomenon. Many heads of the companies I talk to exclusively hire remote workers. When I talk to them, however, I hear that it becomes hard to scale because they struggle for clarity even more. Imagine your team are all not in the same office—how important it is to have a pool around clarity. Generally, what I find is that it is hard to be in the middle—caught between some remote and some offices. A company should either be a hub and spoke distributed model like us, or like a few of these companies that are doing pure remote. What I’ve heard from these leaders is that if they are going to do it, they must do it. Doing it halfway doesn’t work.
Take Asia as an example. Usually, if you’re building a top-down, first office headquarters hub in Asia, chances are you will go to Singapore because if you’re top-down, you need to fly everywhere, and Singapore is the central hub. For bottoms-up models, we are seeing that be Sydney more and more.
Some of it depends on the size of the local market, some of it is talent, some of it is the buildup of AWS and some of the infrastructure. It is a combination of those factors.
What does the future of Asana hold?
Let me start on the product and solution side. If you go to Asana.com/vision, you will see that we did something crazy bold. A little more than a year ago, we created a 10-minute video of our product vision for the world to see.
Much of what we have been doing over the last year and a half is delivering on that. It is very likely we will put out an updated one towards the end of this year or the beginning of next year because we have now delivered on much of what was contained in that original video.
In terms of AI, we started to implement some basic versions. We will certainly allow that to evolve over time and we will likely share more specifics there in the next version of our vision.
As I mentioned, the news today is Workload. Workload, to me, is a democratized real-time for-everybody version of traditional resource management. It allows managers to balance project loads across teams and across people on teams in a modern, easy way to get things done (and to get them done fast), to make sure people don’t burn out, and to make sure you have the coverage you need. We are really excited about Workloads, and there will be some other really interesting product announcements at the end of this year which will tie into the updated vision video.
On the business side, last year was the year of launching heavily in Europe, while this year is the year of launching heavily into Asia. We have lots and lots of great logos we can talk about now that aren’t just—some of them public, some of them not, so we will be sharing those more and more. Sony and Disney are just a couple examples these, but we are experiencing adoption in killer brands across industries.
Our goal is the mission of getting Asana to as many of the billion information workers as we can. We are in the early, early days despite the business performance.
We think the market for intelligent work management is a maybe couple percent penetrated. I mean, if you think about the way people solve workflow today, it’s all manual. 97% of people are using spreadsheets, Sticky Notes, meetings, Wikis and documents, and it is just kind of a mess.
Is the mobile app a large percentage of your customers’ use-time?
It is a huge driver, and what is interesting is that it’s not like most people choose desktop or mobile. You will find executives who spend more time checking in than creating content, use mobile more, but it is really a multi-device world. If you just think about it in terms of breakdown of the day, you can see it in the numbers. When people are at home, at lunch, commuting, mobile and iPad use go up. Whereas at work, you see a lot more desktop in the core work hours.
It spans across the day and more and more iOS and Android apps driving. Our mobile experience is a big differentiator for us because it’s such a rich experience and I think a lot of our competitors are just older tools and they haven’t built out the mobile experience so well and we find that to be a big driver of adoption.
It’s not one or the other. It’s both.
Do you know what percentage of time people spend on each or not really?
I don’t, but it maps to the workday. You can literally see an aggregate of anonymized graphs across the day of all users. It maps the commute and meals and hopefully downtime with the family. Actually, you see it shut down and then pick back up when their kids go to sleep. You can see it just map across the day going from one device to another.
What productivity tips would you have for someone completely out of the realm of the tech world? What would you say to Jimmy Fallon if you had to tell him how to be more productive?
Well, it’s hard for me not to be biased, and say Asana. We use it, my wife and I, although I didn’t used to use Asana much at all. I discovered it a few months before I came to Asana, which is what got me interested in it. Before that, I didn’t know about it, let alone use it, but I had this pain that everyone has, because everyone has a pain at home as much as they do at work. I think for productivity’s sake, getting clarity with whoever you work with and having clarity of who’s doing what, when, just changes your life.
My wife and I use this for trip planning and school planning and homework and honey-do lists, like a lot of famous productivity people do as well. I know Eric Ries is a productivity expert. (He’s also an investor in Asana and frequently writes about this topic). There are many people that are focused on problems being just as bad at home as they are at work. If you are Jimmy Fallon, it’s just a matter of focus on clarity and accountability for the team.
A little thing I can say is that I got rid of my car and started Ubering and Lyfting to work (I do both). It’s not that far a drive, but it’s changed my life. A: it’s almost cost-neutral. B: Jimmy Fallon probably does this in a limo, but it’s just productivity time where I get through my Asana inbox, I get organized, and I don’t feel the stress or road rage at all. Then when I go home it gives me more presence and time with my family. I’m just starting to see that a lot more. It’s interesting.
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Asana provides organizations an opportunity to reclaim their core values of transparency, collaboration, and accountability by eliminating chaos and confusion which can quickly built up and paralyze the success of a business. To learn more, visit Asana.com.