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4 startups that are changing productivity

Matt Weinberger | Oct. 27, 2014
Getting work done the Silicon Valley way.

By now, you've likely heard about Inbox, Google's bold new plan to reinvent email with a smarter, more context-sensitive interface that treats messaging like just another to-do list. 

But Google's not the only one trying to reinvent how people get things done. With the introduction of smartphones and cloud computing has come a new generation of productivity tools that try to change the ways people work with each other. In other words, in an age of ubiquitous connectivity and smaller screens, the old ways of communication and collaboration are just too dang slow. 

From storing photos to storing documents, and from fixing email to trying to replace it, here's a look at the startups changing the face of how work gets done, the Silicon Valley way. 

Asana boasts an impressive pedigree, founded in 2009 by Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz and ex-engineer Justin Rosenstein as a solution for collaborative task management that could supplant email in the workplace. Email, goes Asana's pitch, is way more noise than signal, and theoretically simple discussions take too much back-and-forth and redundancy -- if you can even find the conversation you're looking for amid the mounds of newsletters, social media updates, and other stuff that makes up the modern inbox.

Where Google, Dropbox's Mailbox, and the like try to combat this by filtering email more intelligently, Asana aims to take the entire productivity thing elsewhere. It won't cut email out entirely, but it's won a lot of adherents that use it to clearly and concisely set tasks for people. 

Asana's been around for a few years now, but 2014 saw the company really invest deeply in its mobile efforts with new native mobile apps for Apple iOS. But if you want something with a more recent pedigree, take a look at the lesser-known Pyrus, which has flown under the radar but works in more social commenting features. 

After email, IRC is probably the oldest communications technology still in wide use on the modern Internet (unless you count usenet, which I don't). There have been attempts to revamp it for the enterprise -- Atlassian HipChat is probably the best-known example, at least in developer circles -- but Slack has earned huge acclaim for combining the flexibility and scriptability of IRC, the multiple platforms of a consumer app, and the content archiving and team controls the enterprise admin demands. 

Slack, the brainchild of Flickr co-founder Stewart Butterfield, came out of nowhere earlier this year, raising $43 million in one round of funding as it found a tremendous fanbase among first developers, and now retail employees, reporters and anyone else where distributed knowledge workers need to collaborate. A major part of that success is Slack's extensibility -- Dropbox files, Google Docs, Github code updates, all can be automatically pulled into Slack for quick collaboration and file updates. And support for more apps is coming. Given the buzz that Slack is now searching for more funding -- at a valuation as much as $1 billion --  it won't be slowing down anytime soon.


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