Editor's note: Inc. magazine's 2018 Company of the Year is  Bird. Here, we spotlight a contender for the title.

Asana is hitting its stride.

The workplace management software company has flown under the radar somewhat compared with many other fast-growing Silicon Valley businesses. But 2018 proved to be a milestone year: Asana reached 50,000 paying customers and says it has increased its revenue to north of $50 million. (Asana declined to give an exact figure.) Along the way, the company helped ensure its future will be bright by improving the functionality of its software, bolstering key partnerships, and raising a new round of funding that has earned it unicorn status.

Asana's software helps teams break apart large projects and assign, schedule, and track them as they're completed. In a recent Forrester report, it topped the rankings of collaborative workplace management tools (along with Smartsheet and Wrike), on the basis of factors such as ease of use, partner networks, and the adoption of machine learning and A.I. The company earned the position in part because of new integrations with Slack and Microsoft Outlook, enabling many businesses to use Asana's software with tools they already rely on.

Investors have noticed Asana's success as well. On November 29, the company announced a $50 million series E round at a $1.5 billion valuation, led by London-based investment firm Generation Investment Management, bringing the total funding it has raised this year to $125 million. It plans to use the new capital to continue the international expansion it began three years ago with the opening of a Dublin office. The company also helped those efforts in the past year by doubling its Ireland team to just over 30 employees and enhancing its software to accommodate five new languages. Roughly half of Asana's new revenue now comes from outside of the United States.

Dustin Moskovitz, a Facebook co-founder, started the workplace management software company with former Facebook engineering manager Justin Rosenstein in 2008 after feeling bogged down by emails, spreadsheets, and general "work about work" while at the social media giant. At the time, there were more traditional management tools like Yammer and Salesforce Chatter available, but not all employees in the workplace actually knew how to use them.​

Asana's software began to surpass existing products because "it was the best of both worlds--it allowed collaboration with purpose, it allowed you to deliver an outcome," says Margo Visitacion, a principal research analyst for Forrester. "And if you weren't a formal project manager and you were tasked with managing projects in addition to your day job, this was a much easier way to do it than trying to figure out and learn a formal project management tool."

Ten years after its founding, Asana has nearly 400 employees in San Francisco, New York, and Dublin. But its name recognition hasn't quite kept pace with its growth. "I think they could do more about their profile, frankly," says Colin le Duc, a founding partner of Generation Investment and an Asana board member. "Other companies that have spent a lot of money on marketing have a greater outside perception in the marketplace, versus Asana. It has an impact when you're trying to hire software engineers in a competitive market."

On the other hand, Asana's low profile is perhaps a reflection of its founders, which le Duc says is a welcome contrast with many other Silicon Valley executives. "There's a level of humility that's not always found in billionaire founders," he says. "They think through things very comprehensively. You know this is not shallow, and you see that come out in the product and how the company is run."

When first starting Asana, Moskovitz and Rosenstein did two things: write the code for the software, and make a list of company values. The two took insights from their shared love of yoga and Zen Buddhism, including on the list clarity, responsibility, and mindfulness. The approach paid off--this year Asana was named to the Top 5 of 2018 Best Small and Medium Workplaces by Great Place to Work and Fortune magazine, and was honored as one of Inc.'s Best Workplaces.

The founders hope their founding principles will continue to set an example for their employees and customers in 2018 and beyond. "For us, it's about demonstrating that great culture is a competitive advantage," Moskovitz says. "When you have great culture, that's not in contrast to a desire to succeed in business. It's actually the most effective way to succeed in business."

Published on: Nov 29, 2018