In It to Win It: Asana Raises $28M Series B, Peter Thiel Joins the Board

By Sarah Lacy , written on July 23, 2012

From The News Desk

Asana is not merely a "Facebook for the enterprise." But it's crammed full of Facebook DNA, including its co-founders Dustin Moskovitz and Justin Rosenstein. There's also board member Adam D'Angelo-- Quora co-founder and former Facebook CTO. And previous investors included Benchmark's Matt Cohler-- also one of Facebook's first hires. And now, Facebook board member and early investor Peter Thiel is also joining Asana's board.

Asana is announcing today that it has raised an additional $28 million in capital lead by Founders Fund along with existing investors Benchmark, Andreessen Horowitz and Mitch Kapor. Thiel had already been an individual investor in Asana, but with this investment he'll be more heavily involved in the company and take a board seat.

PandoDaily has learned that the valuation on this round was near a healthy $300 million. Not bad for a "boring" enterprise company, particularly considering Asana didn't shop this deal at all. Moskovitz and Rosenstein knew they wanted Thiel on the board, and this round was designed to be the means to that end. That, and getting a war chest of cash to keep building the company.

There's a reason that so many of the people who were instrumental in the early days of Facebook are drawn to Asana, and it's not merely because the two companies share a cofounder in Moskovitz. After all, the two companies have dramatically different customers, business models and products. But there's a core similarity between Facebook and Asana that has pulled a lot of early Facebook believers in-- a strong sense of mission.

Asana's goal is to make people work and communicate better together. That may sound reminiscent of a lot of the new generation of enterprise software companies who have similar lofty claims to change how people work. But Asana has one huge difference: It's far less likely to sell than the rest.

As we discussed when Moskovitz was our guest at PandoMonthly in May, he was one of the few people who never thought Facebook should sell, backing up Mark Zuckerberg when most of the world thought he was crazy. He was handsomely rewarded for that belief.

Not only culturally does Asana come out of that DNA, but Moskovitz-- and Rosenstein to a lesser degree-- have already had a substantial exit, making them less likely to be seduced by zeros. What's more, leaving Facebook wasn't an easy decision for Moskovitz and he only did it because he felt he was embarking on something just as big. If Microsoft comes along with a billion dollar offer? Keep walking, Ballmer. After Facebook, a "mere" billion for the last few years of their lives would likely be a let down, comparatively.

In adding Thiel to the board, Asana has brought in even more of that wild, change-the-world-or-go-home DNA. "Peter has been an advisor and we met with him periodically to get high level advice on strategy, but there will be a very intimate relationship with the company now that he's joining the board," Rosenstein says. "We all believe the opportunity for us as technologists to have a sweeping impact on the world is huge. We're shooting for the moon here and solving huge problems." Moskovitz said at PandoMonthly Asana could "certainly" be a $100 billion company if done right.

This is as important distinction in the wake of the disappointment surrounding the Yammer acquisition and Sparrow acquisition. As I've said, PandoDaily lives inside of Yammer, and yet I feel compelled to find a new solution post-deal. It's still a young product, and I have no faith in Microsoft's ability or desire to keep innovating on a comparatively small product it buys. People have called me cynical for saying what most people assume when a company gets bought by an older, lumbering giant. But last week, email client Sparrow just out-and-out told users it wouldn't be innovating anymore.

There's a real sense of fatigue among early adopters these days, as we enter another decade of innovative companies flipping. At this point, users have been burned too many times. No one buys the synergy line, and we all know what it means. You try something new out, you love it, you evangelize it to friends, you come to rely on it and suddenly it's sold and starts to decline.

This is going to become even more pronounced when it comes to the new wave of enterprise software companies that have a try-before-you-buy sales ethos and pockets of early adopter evangelists within even giant corporations. Collectively this ragtag group of software companies is -- finally-- starting to challenge huge multi-billion dollar incumbents. And as we saw with Microsoft and Yammer-- those incumbents can justify crazy multiples on revenue just to take these smaller more nimble competitors out of the market.

"We don't have a philosophical aversion to M&A," Rosenstein says. "If we believed that selling the company could in some hypothetical world achieve our mission faster, which should theoretically be possible when you have the resources of a larger company, we'd consider it. But in practice you don't see it. You never get heard from again."

Many companies swear by Asana's product. In the just nine months since it publicly launched, tens of thousands of teams are using it, hundreds have upgraded to premium workspaces, and 18 million tasks have been created through the system. Just a few weeks ago, it launched its own stab at an email killer called Inbox, that aims to take over-- and solve-- even more of the messiness around human communications around work. Already hundreds of thousands of messages are sent through it everyday. "We think about this deal as an exclamation mark on an incredible nine months," Rosenstein says.

But as more Sparrows and Yammers of the world get acquired, the most compelling feature of Asana may be that it is one of the most likely of this crop of new enterprise companies not to sell. And if you are going to trust your company's communication to something new, that's a pretty compelling feature.

(Peter Thiel and Matt Cohler are both investors in PandoDaily.)