In case you don’t know, Mr. Moskovitz is one of the founders of Facebook, the world’s largest social network. He’s actually classified as Facebook’s third employee and used to be the company’s Chief Technology Officer, but he doesn’t work there anymore…in fact, he’s now working on his own startup, Asana. Forbes has him valued at around $3.5 billion right now, although this could potentially change once Facebook finally goes public.
PandoMonthly - May 2012 - Sarah Lacy interviews Dustin MoskovitzMr. Moskovitz sat down with Mrs. Lacy to chat about his life as an entrepreneur and what it was like starting Facebook. The conversation first started off with what things were like back in the Harvard years and what Mark Zuckerberg was like. Mr. Moskovitz and Mr. Zuckerberg weren’t necessarily going to be roommates, but fate decided to intervene and soon, the two of them, along with Chris Hughes, and another roommate Billy, got assigned to the same dorm room. That would eventually help form the creation process of Facebook. And Mr. Moskovitz never really saw himself as an entrpreneuer–in fact, he was/is more of a business-side person who was involved in technology from time to time. He freely admitted to Mrs. Lacy that for him, the one class that he didn’t get an A grade in was Computer Science. Yes, he actually wound up getting a B+…the first CTO of Facebook…oh, and just how much of The Social Network was actually accurate of the start of Facebook? Mr. Moskovitz believes 95% of the movie was “bullshit”–it went “beyond artistic license”.
At some point during their conversation, Mrs. Lacy brings up the $1 billion offer by Yahoo to purchase Facebook. Mr. Moskovitz said that both him and Mr. Zuckerberg both thought it was a bad idea to sell to the search engine company, but a majority of the management team thought it wise to do so. But in the end, while the minority voiced “no”, the majority dissenters went along with the decision and supported both of the founders. But when asked whether Facebook should have shelled out $1 billion for Instagram, Mr. Moskovitz simply replied that he couldn’t answer it–it was one of those things that he felt could indirectly influence the Facebook stock price. In a philosophical moment, the question was asked: If the founder does/doesn’t want to sell, is he always right?
I haven’t thought too much about that, but acquisition is a sign that companies are sort of on a bad trajectory. I think a lot of acquisitions that are happening are more like life rafts; they’ve gotten to the end of their run. If the founder thinks there’s still a business to be built, 9/10 they’ll just keep going.
Dustin Moskovitz Asana screenshotSo what’s Mr. Moskovitz doing now? Well he’s started a new company called Asana, which is a web application that will keep teams in sync–a single place where everyone can “capture, organize, track, and communicate what they’re working on.” Asana was started in 2009 with both Mr. Moskovitz and a former-Facebook/Google employee Justin Rosenstein and has reportedly secured over $10 million in funding from folks like Andreessen Horowitz, Benchmark Capital, Owen Van Natta, Peter Thiel, Ron Conway, Sean Parker, and many others. This enterprise application was probably Mr. Moskovitz and Mr. Rosenstein’s first foray into the enterprise market, but they’re quick to say that they’re not selling to businesses. Asana, as Mr. Moskovitz pointed out, is operating on a bottom-up business model, whereby they’re working with teams of less than 30 people who will get the full application free of charge. They’re selling to much larger teams and offering additional functionality for those who need more support:
We think when people sell to companies, they aren’t really using their product — they’ve just got this checklist of features. When you’re trying to distribute it and trying to get individuals and small companies to use it, you really have to care about [things like user experience].
Asana is currently doing quite well, having grown their user base from just a couple hundred teams using their product when they were in beta to now having over tens of thousands of active projects on their live version and Mr. Moskovitz believes that Asana is a $100 billion dollar business (or whatever we think Facebook is really worth).
He’s started two companies already, but wound up dropping out of Harvard just to make it happen. So should budding entrepreneurs who are still in the academic parts of their lives mimic this behavior in order to follow their dreams? We all know that dropping out of college to be an entrepreneur has risks, but in a word of caution by Mr. Moskovitz: if you’re unsure about your idea or your startup, then you’re probably not onto something. As he told the PandoMonthly crowd:
In Facebook’s case, it was very, very obvious. With Asana, it’s not necessarily that we’re the ones who will win, but there’s a very important market we’ve stumbled on to here. You have to believe so much in your idea that you just have to make it happen. If you’re thinking “well, staying in school sounds nice too”, you should probably stay in school.
So what does he think about Y Combinator and the admission requirement that you don’t need an idea? It’s a bad idea. Mr. Moskovitz says that it’s bad for them and the ecosystem–there are other companies that have proven themselves and could use these people who have applied to YC, the engineers, and instead, they’re chasing the other opportunity without the “right spark”.
PandoMonthly - May 2012 - Sarah Lacy interviews Dustin MoskovitzMr. Moskovitz has a very generous side to him as well…while he’s one of the wealthiest individuals in the world, he’s not going to simply pass along money to the next generation. Rather, he declared that he, along with his fiance, have created a foundation and are highly investing in philanthropy. He intends to give it all away and make sure that it gets put to work to help those who don’t have the necessary resources.
It was a pretty great night watching one of the founders from Facebook talk about their experience–especially from someone so high up in the food chain who has had intrinsic knowledge about what really went down and how life is like as an entrepreneur. PandoMonthly has had some really great speakers in 2012 and their line up is getting better each time I hear it–next month will feature one-half of powerhouse VC firm Andreessen Horowitz, Ben Horowitz. Also announced, PandoMonthly is going to New York City so subscribers who shelled out money for a year-long pass will be able to transfer it to the NYC events as well.
Oh, and that thing about the “missing ice chest”? Well in one of the questions asked by the audience, Mr. Moskovitz was accused of having gone to Burning Man one year and walked over to the questioner’s camp and allegedly stole (or borrowed without permission) their ice chest and hasn’t returned it. No word yet on whether Scooby-Doo and the gang have found it and unmasked the true culprit.