Wednesday, April 7, 2021

History of Flow vs. Asana

Andrew Wilkinson:

This is a story about how I lost $10,000,000 by doing something stupid.


It turned out that Dustin Moskovitz (@moskov), the billionaire co-founder of Facebook, was a fellow to-do list junkie, and he was quietly working on his own product.


It was ugly! It was designed by engineers. Complicated and hard to use.

Not a threat in the slightest.


Suddenly, Asana ads were everywhere.


In order to stay competitive, we had underinvested in our engineering team due to cash constraints and stretched them across mobile, desktop, and web.


We lost the war, due to inexperience, product myopia, and a lack of capital in a highly capital intensive and competitive space.

David Heinemeier Hansson:

Flow spread itself thin thinking “the market” had set certain non-negotiable bars, so unless they had, say, an Android app RIGHT NOW, they’d be toast. This led to a me-too, low-quality product full of bugs. Instead of focusing on a smaller, more opinionated, more differentiated product.


Wilkinson’s tale of regret is steeped in war metaphors. Bringing bigger, badder weapons to this imaginary war with Asana. Locked into a Cold War one-upping game. Of course you’re going to lose if you define your company and your product on the competition’s terms, try to copy whatever they’re doing, but don’t have half the money to do so.


If you run your company like it was VC funded without the venture capital, yeah, you’re going to wish you had just taken other people’s money.

Update (2021-04-16): Dustin Moskovitz (via Steve Landey):

My version of this story is that Flow and Asana were both small fish in a big pond at the time and we were trying to convince Andrew he should team up with us against much more established competitors. Our budget and team in the years he’s talking about was tiny.

I don’t invite other founders to coffee just to do Bond-villain type gloating.

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