Kara Swisher

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Asana Hires "COO-Type"–Van Zant First Biz Side Hire for Workplace Collaboration Start-Up

As it gets ramped up for a wider launch, Asana, the high-profile workplace collaboration start-up founded by top former Facebook execs, has hired former SolarWinds product strategy exec Kenny Van Zant in a “COO-type of role.”

Van Zant, who will be Asana’s first business-side hire, has also worked at a variety of tech companies, including Cisco.

Co-founders Dustin Moskovitz and Justin Rosenstein remain at the top of the leadership at the productivity software company, which–perhaps in keeping with its yoga-style name–does not have official titles.

But Van Zant will essentially fulfill the COO role, focusing on bringing Asana to the enterprise market in a socially-fueled, “bottom-up” approach.

“We now have a great product and are ready for our next phase of bringing it to the market,” said Moskovitz, in an interview this afternoon with BoomTown. “While Justin and I continue to work on product and engineering, Kenny will be the driver of that launch.”

Specifically, in a blog post today, Moskovitz wrote:

“Kenny will be leading functions outside of product and engineering, and serve as a key driver for Asana’s marketing and corporate strategy.”

Asana, which is aimed at helping people work on projects together in groups, is now in private beta.

It tackles the often unexciting, but very large and problematic, workplace collaboration and communications software market.

In Sanskrit, “asana” means “sitting down” and refers to strong but relaxed postures in yoga, which presumably means the product will help frustrated workers achieve a digital form of nirvana.

The San Francisco-based start-up, which has raised $9 million in venture funding from Benchmark Capital and Andreessen Horowitz, now has 15 employees.

Asana had previously garnered just over $1 million in an angel round, which included a spate of Silicon Valley bigwigs.

Still, it has not, thankfully, received the intense hype of other innovative start-ups from former Facebookers–hello, Quora!

That said, many who are using Asana think it will make a huge splash as it is rolled out and attempts to bring consumer-style tools to the workplace.

There are, of course, a range of companies doing this in different ways–from Jive to Yammer to LinkedIn and to a variety of cloud-based enterprise efforts by Google and Microsoft.

In an interview, Van Zant said the time was ripe for big changes in the way enterprise-aimed products were bought and sold.

“I will be focused on selling our enterprise software product from the bottom up, rather than targeting the CIO,” said Van Zant. “It is clear the world of enterprise is being impacted by consumer behavior.”

While he does not start until Monday, Van Zant speculated that Asana’s free product offering will remain, with a premium version to come.

Benchmark’s Matt Cohler, who made the Asana investment for the firm and is on its board, said the time is right for such businesses aimed at enterprise transformation.

“Kenny wrote the book on this at SolarWinds,” he said. “The consumerization of the enterprise isn’t going to happen–it already has.”

Here is a demo video Asana put out in February of an open house, as well as the blog post from Asana on the Van Zant hire:

Asana Open House from Jerry Phillips on Vimeo.

Justin and I are excited to welcome Kenny Van Zant as the newest member of the Asana team. Kenny will be leading functions outside of product and engineering, and serve as a key driver for Asana’s marketing and corporate strategy.

Until now we’ve focused primarily on developing the Asana product into the best of class solution for task management and project execution. Encouraged by positive feedback from the early adopters in our beta program, we’re now preparing for the company’s next phase–bringing this technology to the rest of the market–and we can’t imagine a better partner than Kenny to drive this strategy and build a strong organization to support it. At SolarWinds, Kenny helped pioneer the bottom-up distribution model for selling software and SaaS into enterprises and small businesses–a sales approach we plan to develop further at Asana. This experience, together with an almost uncanny overlap of values, made it clear that Kenny is the right fit.

While finding Kenny concludes a long search for the right leader of Asana’s business operations, we are continuing to grow the team, looking for passionate designers and engineers to join us in our common purpose: using software to help groups of people work together more effectively.


Kenny Van Zant is a technology entrepreneur with leadership experience in start-ups and public companies. Kenny was most recently the SVP and Chief Product Strategist for SolarWinds (NYSE: SWI) from 2006-2010, where he was responsible for products, marketing, and corporate strategy. At SolarWinds, Kenny helped pioneer a disruptive business model for selling software and SaaS into the enterprise and SMB segments from the “bottom-up,” using inside sales, online marketing, free products, and a loyal user community. Based on a unique combination of growth and profitability, SolarWinds enjoyed a successful IPO in May of 2009.

Prior to SolarWinds, Kenny was the EVP of Marketing and GM of the Communications BU for Motive (NASD: MOTV) and the co-founder and COO for BroadJump (acquired by Motive), where he managed the company’s growth from start-up in 1999 to over $60M in revenue and 350 global employees within 3 years.

Kenny has a BS in Electrical and Computer Engineering from the University of Texas at Austin.

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