From a Facebook Founder Comes a Way to Streamline Work Flow

Written by New York Times | Updated: May 30 2012, 02:44am hrs
Quentin Hardy

Facebooks success has spawned a multimillion-dollar boom in social networking. There are networks for photo-sharers, for children and for workers inside companies. Yammer and Jive, for instance, promise to energise employees and increase their productivity by enabling fast information sharing.

Dustin Moskovitz thinks this is a bad idea that wont fly. The first time I looked at Yammer, I thought I was on Facebook, he said. Work is not a social network, with serendipitous communications and photo collections. Work is about managing tasks, and responding to things quickly.

Mr. Moskovitz does know a little bit about running the operations of a fast-growing company. He helped found Facebook along with Mark Zuckerberg, Eduardo Saverin and Chris Hughes while at Harvard in 2004. His job was to make sure the computers straining to run Facebooks expanding network never went down.

After leaving Facebook in 2008 with enough equity to make him one of the worlds youngest billionaires, Mr. Moskovitz, now 27, works on his own version of company management software for the networked age. He calls it Asana.

Asana is task-based software, a shared to-do list for the company. Work is assigned and completed by a potentially unending set of teams created on the fly. Asana is a Sanskrit word meaning easeful posture. Yoga practitioners think of it in terms of complex poses done effortlessly. You should read a lot into the name, Mr. Moskovitz said.

Tasks can be named and assigned across the company, then shut down or subdivided as the work progresses. People can rank, or have others rank, which of their jobs need attention soonest. If a company wants, anyone can look in on anyone elses work, offering help and criticism. We think of e-mail, in-person meetings, and whiteboards as our competition, said Justin Rosenstein, Mr. Moskovitzs co-founder at Asana.

Like Mr. Moskovitz, Mr. Rosenstein came from Facebook, though he stopped first at Google where he built an early system for engineers to organise their work. At Facebook, he helped invent the like button and ran Facebooks Pages project, which is a way for brands and celebrities to build networks. He was frustrated, he said, building an enormously ambitious project, and losing a lot of time around coordination.

Mr. Moskovitz, who was used to working one on one, was by then managing 200 engineers. His solution was something called Tasks, which is similar to what became Asana, but it was mainly for engineers. Eventually the two men decided that helping whole companies get things done might be something important that they were good at doing, and they left Facebook to start Asana.

Mr. Moskovitz is uncomfortable with his outsize wealth. It remains a complex legacy of the Facebook years, he says. What he finds far more interesting to talk about is the ambition derived from having built something so big. You learn what an enterprise is capable of. Everything else measures against that, he said. One of the purposes of life, and selfishly what makes people happy, is building things that are impactful.

Moskovitz left Facebook on good terms. He socializes with Zuckerberg, who still gives Moskovitz credit for building much of Facebook.

Asana was released and tested on only a few companies in February 2011, then more broadly last November, with several thousand users. The company has not revealed the size of its user base, but said it had been growing rapidly.

Asana will compete with corporate networking products from fellow start-ups like Jive Software and Yammer, as well as the offerings from big companies, like Chatter, which is owned by Salesforce.com, and Socialcast, owned by VMWare. These corporate social networks are now used by millions of employees.