Dustin Moskovitz, Co-Founder and CEO of Asana.
The typical playbook for a successful tech founder looks something like this.
Start a company with full ownership. Sell significant portions to venture investors as the business progresses. Eventually becoming a minority owner. Take the company public. Sell more shares over time.
Asana’s Dustin Moskovitz took that playbook and completely rewrote the ending.
Moskovitz, who is still known to many as the co-founder of Facebook, started Asana in 2008 to make work more collaborative through the software. When he took the company public through a direct listing in 2020, his ownership was around 36%.
Then he went shopping. Following the purchase of 480,000 Asana shares in June, Moskovitz’s ownership increased to 111.4 million shares, representing more than 51% of the outstanding shares. In March, Asana revealed that Moskovitz had a business plan to buy up to 30 million more of his Class A shares this year, sending the shares up nearly 19% the next day.
“It’s been a wild two years in the market and there have been some interesting buying opportunities,” Moskovitz said in an interview with CNBC.
Even after rising 66% this year, Asana’s stock is more than 80% below its all-time high at the end of 2021.
For Moskovitz, who has a net worth of more than $12 billion (mostly from his early stake in Facebook, now Meta), becoming the majority owner of Asana isn’t about having control. Rather, he sees it as the best way to invest to support his philanthropy.
In 2010, Moskovitz signed the give promise, a pledge by some of the world’s richest people to donate the bulk of their fortunes to charity. Moskovitz and his wife, former journalist Cari Tuna, distribute their funds through Good Ventures, based on recommendations from Open Philanthropy.
When it comes to spending that money, there is no greater concern for Moskovitz than the future of artificial intelligence.
Good Ventures donated $30 million to get OpenAI up and running over a three-year period in 2017, long before generative AI or ChatGPT entered the public lexicon. OpenAI, now worth about $30 billion, was started as a nonprofit, and Open Philanthropy said at the time that it wanted to “help play a role in OpenAI’s approach to security and governance issues.” “.
One of the 10 focus areas that Open Philanthropy lists in its website is “potential risks of advanced AI”. The organization recommended a $5 million grant to the National Science Foundation to support research on methods to ensure the safety of artificial intelligence systems and $5.56 million to the University of California at Berkeley for “the creation of an academic center focused on AI security”. In all, Open Philanthropy says it has awarded more than $300 million in the focus area through more than 170 grants.
“I definitely think there’s a big risk there, something I spend a lot of time thinking about,” Moskovitz said.
Moskovitz co-founded Facebook with Mark Zuckerberg, Chris Hughes, and Eduardo Saverin at Harvard University in 2004. He became a post-Facebook billionaire in 2012. initial public offeringwith more shares than anyone other than Zuckerberg.
Even after buying additional Asana shares in 2022 and 2023, he owns about $2.6 billion, less than the $4.6 billion of Facebook shares he owns, according to FactSet.
“I’m in a unique position, where I came to the table with an existing source of wealth,” Moskovitz said. “So even the things that seem like giant purchases, they’re still a relatively normal portion of my net worth relative to other founders.”
Moskovitz agreed not to purchase all of Asana’s outstanding shares or acquire ownership of 90% of the common shares. He will also maintain the independence of the majority of his directors, in accordance with the rules of the New York Stock Exchange, according to a presentation.
Moskovitz declined to discuss whether he was buying shares to prevent activist investors from coming in and trying to force the change. Activists have been busy in the cloud software space, particularly in Sales forcewhich responded to the pressure by expanding its buyback program and increasing profits.
Samuel Altman, CEO of OpenAI, appears to testify before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology, and the Law in Washington, DC on May 16, 2023.
Win Mcnamee | fake images
Recently, Moskovitz’s worlds collided.
OpenAI went from being a niche startup to the latest in technology after launching ChatGPT in November. Before that, Moskovitz was tinkering with the company’s DALL-E technology to turn text into images. He said OpenAI CEO Sam Altman opened a “lab account” for him in April last year.
After the launch of ChatGPT, Moskovitz I had a little fun ask the chatbot to come up with goals to help deal with California’s housing problem.
Meanwhile, Asana joined the parade of companies announcing enhancements to their products with generative AI features that could receive human input and present text, images or audio in response. Earlier this month, Asana saying had given some customers access to various generative AI functions powered by OpenAI models.
“Chat is just a paradigm of how you use these technologies,” Moskovitz told CNBC. “When you’re integrating them into workflows like work management, doing things like streamlining automation workflows, or helping with decision making, you can literally ask questions about the system and it will give you a summary and a recommendation.”
Moskovitz said the more complicated tasks, like adding structure to projects, is where “it really takes off in potential.” Rather than just asking for specific answers, he said the power is in technology to take “a bunch of information and sort of a vague target” and then “give it something roughly in the right direction.”
Asana could spend $5 million or more on OpenAI’s technology next year, Moskovitz said, adding that he was “very impressed with GPT-3,” the company’s previous big language model, “and even more impressed with GPT-4”, which was announced in March.
Moskovitz took six minutes of Asana’s 51-minute earnings call in early June to tout the company’s approach to AI. He used the acronym 41 times, compared to 32 AI references per Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella on his company’s earnings call in April. Microsoft is the main investor in OpenAI.
Asana is “personally deeply connected to the AI labs that are leading the way,” Moskovitz said.
The ties are, in fact, quite deep. altman invested in Asana in 2016. On Asana’s earnings call, Moskovitz reminded analysts that his company and OpenAI “share a board member in Adam D’Angelo,” a former Facebook technology chief who later started the Q&A startup. Quora online answers.
One of the first OpenAI board members was Holden Karnofsky, co-CEO of Open Philanthropy. Kanofsky later co-founded the artificial intelligence startup Anthropic with his wife, Daniela Amodei. Moskovitz invested in Anthropic in 2021, the same year he co-invested with Altman in the nuclear fusion startup. helion.
Like Altman, Moskovitz is also deeply optimistic about AI and worried about the damage it can cause.
Moskovitz was one of many businessmen who signed a statement in May, saying that “mitigating the extinction risk of AI should be a global priority along with other societal-scale risks like pandemics and nuclear war.” The letter came from the nonprofit Center for AI Security.
But Moskovitz was not among the signatories to the nonprofit Future of Life Institute. open letter in March that it asked AI labs to pause training the most sophisticated AI models for six months or more. Near the top of that list of signatories was tesla CEO Elon Musk, an early backer of OpenAI, warned that we should be very concerned about advanced AI, calling it “a greater risk to society than cars, planes or medicine.”
Moskovitz said Musk’s fears are not entirely exaggerated and that they both want to “bring this technology into the world in a safe way.”
“Elon approaches it from multiple angles,” he said. “I think we share the view on potential existential risk issues, and maybe we don’t share the view as much on AI censorship and awakening and things like that.”
In December, Musk tweeted that “the danger of training AI to wake up, in other words to lie, is deadly.”
Moskovitz has helped develop a 12 point list of potential policy changes for US lawmakers to consider.
“What I’m most interested in is making sure that later next-generation builds like GPT-5, GPT-6 go through security evaluations before being released to the world,” he said. “I think that will require a regulation to coordinate all the players.”
He even made up a word, in a tweet last month, to express his convoluted views.
“Excited-nervous about the AI!” he wrote.
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