Scaling the power of customer-centric operations: A conversation with Asana’s new COO Anne Raimondi and Chris Farinacci

September 1st, 2021
7 min read
Scaling the power of customer-centric operations: A conversation with Asana’s new COO Anne Raimondi and Chris Farinacci article banner image

Today we announced the appointment of Anne Raimondi as our new Chief Operating Officer and Head of Business. 

We could not be more thrilled to welcome Anne to Asana. She is a seasoned, customer-centric operator with over 20 years of experience leading product and business teams at fast-growing companies like Guru, Zendesk, TaskRabbit, and SurveyMonkey. A longtime Asana customer, Anne joined our board of directors in 2019 as its first independent member.

After six years at Asana and scaling the company to more than 107,000 paying customers and teams in 11 cities globally, our previous COO and Head of Business Chris Farinacci will retire later this year.  Chris has been a dedicated leader and co-creator in Asana’s growth and success, taking the company from Series C to today’s announcement that we are now at a $358 million GAAP revenue run rate, growing revenue 72% year over year in our most recent quarter.

We recently spoke with Anne and Chris about how operators operate, what it means to put customers first, and where the future of work is going. Here’s what they had to say. 

Anne, welcome to Asana. We’re so excited you’re here. You’ve been a customer, a board member, and now you’re Chief Operating Officer of Asana. What first drew you to Asana? 

Anne: When I first got the call a number of years ago about the board opportunity, I had to put it on hold for a moment and scream with excitement. 

I was an early customer at Task Rabbit and we had several teams at Zendesk that were customers. Most recently, we went wall-to-wall at Guru where I was Chief Customer Officer, and that was transformative for us as a growth-stage company. My kids also use Asana for school projects and a number of the startup teams I work with through Stanford Graduate School of Business use Asana to build their ventures. That exposure to Asana as a customer, and how much I love the product, is what first drew to me Asana. 

Having served on the board the last couple of years, I see how much the company culture comes through in the product. Asana is really a special place. I tell a lot of people that it’s hard to put into words how intentional and how values-focused Asana is. The combination of kindness and ambition that Asana has is just very magical. 

Chris, congrats on an incredible six-year run at Asana, not to mention 30 years in the tech industry! What’s your proudest accomplishment as COO of Asana? 

Chris: The first thing that comes to mind is the team we’ve built, without a doubt. Seeing how much the company has grown, especially our customer-facing teams, is the biggest reason for me to feel proud about what I’ve accomplished here. The quality of the talent and leadership at Asana is exceptional. 

Second, it’s the amazing customers we serve. From new customers we’ve acquired to longtime customers who’ve grown with us, I’m so proud of how much time we’ve given back to our customers to focus on their missions.

I’d be remiss not to also mention how much we’ve grown the business and what an indicator that is of the value that customers are getting from our solution. I joined Asana because I thought it had the biggest mission and the biggest value prop I’d ever seen, and I’m even more convinced of that now than I was six years ago. I feel like we’re in the early innings of what’s possible for Asana. We’re really just getting started, and I’m super excited to see what the team and our customers do next. 

Today organizations in 190 countries, from small businesses to large enterprises, are Asana customers. What does it mean to be a “customer-centric operator” and how do you stay focused on customers during periods of hypergrowth? 

Anne: One thing that is special about Asana is that the vision is so big and the problem we are solving is so important. Teams of every size struggle with this. Trying to get humans to work well together without friction is hard, and we put so much time and effort into making it work. The beauty of what we do is that as long as you’ve got a team of people, Asana can help. 

To me, being a customer-centric operator means organizing our priorities, our teams, and our operating cadence to be—as much much as possible—customer facing and not turned internally. Are we reducing friction for every single employee, no matter what team they’re on, to build deep empathy for customers and understand their impact on customers’ lives? That’s our goal as we scale the organization. 

Chris: Staying focused on the customer, for us, all starts with our mission. 

Our mission is to give customers more time back so they can focus more on their missions. The way we implement that is the pyramid of clarity. It comes to life in how we operate as a company and it’s enabled by the product we are building and using every day. You start with the mission, which is ultimately about our customers. Our objectives directly tie to that, then our plans and tactics directly tie to that. The pyramid of clarity is the structure for how everyone stays focused on the mission, and ultimately, on serving our customers. 

When I think about the role of a COO, my framework is “outside-in.” Instead of starting internally with sales, marketing, or support, you start with the customer. From awareness to acquisition to expansion to customer success, it’s all about the customer lifecycle and delivering value.

The COO role is also about driving business performance, growing customer relationships, telling your story to the market, and ultimately building a category. Most critically, it’s about building the team to do all of the above. The scale and scope of each of these—customers, business, category, story and team—changes as the organization grows, but you are always better off starting from outside-in. 

It’s safe to say that the pandemic has fundamentally transformed collaboration, accelerating software adoption and redefining where and how teams work together. As operators, how do you think about scaling clarity and impact across a globally distributed organization? 

Anne: The last year-and-a-half, more than anything, has shown the challenges of relying on legacy tools for collaboration. The reality that so many leaders and organizations have learned is that in order to maintain great employee engagement, it’s actually about helping people connect to the purpose and see how their efforts directly make a difference. All the other things that companies counted on for employee engagement, like perks, that’s not what people care about. People care about working with other great humans and they care about getting important things done. And we have to help them make that happen. 

To really help teams focus on the work and their missions—and putting great things out in the world—we have to have a platform and a tool designed for that. That’s why I’m so excited about Asana. 

Chris: This is definitely a top-of-mind question. When I talk to CIOs and business leaders about the last year-and-a-half, a few recurring themes come up.   

One is that while work was clearly distributed before the pandemic, what’s different now is that it’s even more distributed and fragmented, and teams are still spending more than 60% of their time on work about work. Few teams are consistently on the same page about who’s doing what by when and why. When the pandemic started, the first question I heard from customers was how do we connect everybody and enable communication when they’re even more distributed? The second question was, okay we’ve connected them, how do we keep them on the same page? How do we keep them coordinated? 

This is what is accelerating the business imperative for the work management category and why collaboration tools are moving beyond communication and content. The need for cross-team coordination and clarity is more critical than it has ever been.

Anne, as you think about the future of work, where do you see Asana taking work management next? 

Anne: The vision that Asana’s founders set out from the beginning is a multi-year, decades-long journey because we are solving a big, difficult problem. Ultimately, we want Asana to be mission control for enterprises of every size. We want Asana to be where you run your entire business and understand what’s going well, what’s not, which teams need investment, whether you’ll hit your targets—or exceed them. 

Asana, and work management more broadly, will you help navigate all that. It goes beyond having project management, project portfolio management, or a PMO. I love the analogy of Asana as mission control because it’s really about having the moment-by-moment data on what’s happening across your business so you can make better decisions for your team and customers, faster. 

With the rate of change across every single industry, teams can’t afford not to have that. If you think about how most teams work together today using tools and processes that are strung together—that’s not going to work for companies that want to be the most innovative and need to respond the fastest. I see the vision for Asana as mission control as our north star. 

As we wrap up, Chris, do you have any words of advice for Anne as she takes on her new role as COO? 

Chris: When I first talked to Dustin about my potential retirement as a full-time operator to spend more time with my family and we talked about who could take our business and team to the next level, we both immediately and independently thought of Anne. The reason for that is not just her background and deep industry experience. It’s also because she’s been actively crafting the strategy with us as a board member for the last couple of years. And arguably, most importantly, she has been a longtime Asana customer in multiple cases.

Anne knows the work management category, our strategy, and our team already so the best advice I have is to grow and empower the team to keep executing. We’ve co-created a strategy and plan to take Asana to the next level. The wind’s at your back, and it’s a perfect storm of goodness. 

Anne: Before we go, can I share a story about Chris? I first met Chris when I was interviewing to join the board. We had 35 minutes together in a conference room and the entire whiteboard was covered after those 35 minutes. I left feeling more inspired, smarter, and so motivated and impressed. That was the first of many conversations with Chris. 

Chris and I are both parents, so I’ll use this analogy. It was like being asked to take on responsibility for raising your kids to the next level. What Chris has done at Asana and the team he’s built—being asked to take that on and trust that it’s in good hands is the greatest compliment I could possibly get. It’s a big job and it’s a huge responsibility, and I could not be more honored. 

Forward-Looking Statements:

This blog post contains forward-looking statements and are based on management’s current views and assumptions and should not be relied upon as of any subsequent date, and we disclaim any obligation to update any forward-looking statements. Actual results may vary materially from the statements included herein. Information concerning our risks, uncertainties, and other factors that could cause results to differ from these forward-looking statements are contained in Asana’s SEC filings, earnings press release, and supplemental information posted on the Investor Relations section of the Asana website.

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