Former Facebookers Get $9M for Workforce Telepathy

Justin Rosenstein

Asana, a year-old stealthy startup co-founded by two Facebook alumni, Justin Rosenstein and Dustin Moskovitz, said today it’s raised $9 million in a Series A round led by Benchmark Capital and Andreessen Horowitz. While intentionally vague about how the Asana software will work, the two are very clear as to what they want it to do: help people collaborate and better manage their time in an office (and eventually home) environment, where there are a lot of tasks and too much information coming at workers. Put another way, they want it to enable everyone on a team to read each other’s minds and act accordingly.

We’ve been tracking the growing problem of information overload for a while now, including during the recent GigaOM Bunker Series Event, The New Web. It will become even more acute as the work forces of tomorrow become even more geographically distributed and are forced to use online tools to interact with each other. Asana proposes to fix some of those problems.

From an email attributed to Rosenstein:

And still it felt like not a day went by that there wasn’t some miscommunication or misunderstanding that slowed down the project just a little, a death by a thousand cuts. You see it in every organization. One person will think that X is the most important thing they could be working on, but if they’d talked to their manager they would have gotten a different answer, and their teammates might think it was a third thing. These are all problems of information transparency. This problem has only gotten worse with the explosion of information that knowledge workers need to manage, often coming at them from a variety of tools and inboxes, none of which work together.

Dustin Moskovitz

Both Rosenstein and Moskovitz (a Facebook co-founder) admit this is a hard problem, which is why they’ve started small with a five-person team (one’s an admin) and lots of brand-name Silicon Valley advisers. The most recent funding, which comes on top of $1.2 million raised from angels including Facebook investor Peter Thiel, super angel Ron Conway, Lotus developer Mitch Kapor and Napster founder Sean Parker, could help the company hire more people to build out this magical software. But Asana doesn’t plan on hiring too many people.

Rosenstein says they want to keep the company small because it’s hard to write software that’s going to solve these intra-office communications problems with too many people — a situation I found terribly ironic. Given the desire to keep hiring low, $9 million is a lot of money. And the funding is not going to servers, as Rosenstein told me Asana is currently hosting its development efforts on Amazon’s Web Services (s amzn), so perhaps it’s going to the perks outlined on the company’s web site that include private and group yoga lessons, up to $10,000 to set up your office and two organic, home-cooked meals served twice a day.

Rosenstein said some of the key ways the web has changed collaboration that he wants Asana’s software to take advantage of include the ease of moving information around, the ability of changes someone makes be transparent to other people instantly, and a hosted distribution model. We’ll have to wait to see how Asana’s product stacks up, but I have no idea how long the wait will be, as Rosenstein didn’t have a date to give me for the product’s beta launch or general availability. While the founders assure me that Asana’s product is completely different from anything on the market today, it comes across as mishmash of Yammer, Basecamp and Google (s goog) Wave.

After talking to the founders and getting what information I could, I agree that the problem they are going after represents a huge opportunity for a company that can help change the way enterprises collaborate. But with an enterprise focus, Asana will be going up against huge vendors in the collaboration and project management space, among them Microsoft (s msft), Cisco (s csco) and IBM (s ibm). The likely goal would be an acquisition by a larger player, because while building software is hard, building telepathic software is even harder, and supporting enterprise customers of your telepathic software is the hardest thing of all.