The History of Awareness

I was wearing my Demo@15 golf shirt today.  A member of our staff asked what "Demo@15" was and was immediately chastised by another Awareness staffer for not knowing what "Demo" is.
Some of our staff doesn't even know we were called iUpload.  So, this post serves as a document of how it all began with co-founder Robin Hopper and me.  It's my post, so it is a little "dave-centric".

Figuring out "community" in 1991

In 1991 I was at Microsoft Canada responsible for our reseller channel.  There were about 2,500 in all across Canada.  We had a large volume of customers that we needed to engage and converse with.   In those days you didn't have a lot of option to build "community", yet the things we wanted were very similar to how we would define a community today.  We were big on regular meet-ups to meet, and share knowledge. On Wednesday nights we'd host pizza and demo events and get our resellers together.  We'd all meet-up and have conversations about the issues that were part of our day to day business.  We'd also do a product demo.  Today that would be no problem.  We'd put it in a blog, link to it off the homepage of, maybe start a community and/or blast out some email.  We could even record the demo and post the video to the site

This was 1991. No email, no internet, and while there was BBS's (bulletin board system), they were not in use by the salespeople we were targeting. Keep in mind that most PC's did not have CD's then. So we got as high tech as we could. We installed a fax-on-demand system.  That let us broadcast faxes to our resellers, who could also request pages of content from their touch tone phones. The only "browser compatibility" like issue we had then was that you had to have a touch tone phone.

Fortunately, the company I found (Ibex technologies) was run by a guy named Robin Hopper.  Robin and I hit it off and this theme of "community and content" was something we discussed a lot.

2000 - 2001 CMS Companies are popping up

Lots of time passed, the Internet came and I found myself swept along with it at Microsoft.  Among my last jobs at Microsoft was running and defining Microsoft's internet marketing strategy. I'd been at Microsoft almost 11 years and to be frank it had become the big bureaucratic IBM we had made fun of in 1989 when I started.  So I left to start my own gig. 

This was fall of 2000.  The Internet bubble had burst.  That's not to say there was not a lot of opportunity, but you needed more than a business plan on a napkin.  I looked to what had been difficult all that time, which was engaging community. I decided the toolset required consisted of CMS, Email marketing, search, and surveys and started a company called WebPartz.  It was all SAAS based, and I really there were few competitors in the space. 

Around 2002 I was surprised to get an email broadcast from Robin Hopper talking about his company iUpload, and their hosted content management system.  It was kind of a surpriseto me.  There weren't many companies doing this and it turns out there is another hosted CMS in the town I lived in.  I called Robin, and we decided to connect. Over a couple of beers, it was pretty clear that both of us were trying to fix the same problem that we had talked about during the fax-on-demand days.  Robin had been tackling the issue in one form or another since 1998.  While we took pretty different approaches, we were both targeting marketing, not I.T. departments.  So, over a couple of beers we joined forces.

March 2003 iUpload/WebPartz merge

We kept the iUpload name since it had recently had a good eWeek article.  (Feel free to comment what name you think was cooler) and we kicked off 2003 as a hosted CMS suite that allows "staff, application and visitor-generated content".  The CMS part was quickly becoming a crowded space and Robin and I thought the tools for managing huge volumes of user generated content was a whole different breed.  We also saw the decline of the effectiveness of email based marketing since people like AOL were blocking anything not from people in your buddy list.  Basically we saw waves of revolution going on.  People wanted to have a voice on the internet and be empowered to create their own content (Blogging, User Generated Content) and people wanted to consume content "their way" (RSS etc).

2004 Reinventing Content while floating on an Iceberg

January 2004 Robin spent New Year's at my Cottage north of Toronto.  Ice hadn't formed on the lake, but the shore had some pretty large pieces.  We puttered around the shore talking about how we could stay ahead of the content management business which was already becoming a commodity.  We knew no one in the CMS business was taking blogging, RSS, and UGC seriously and we thought it would be a big part of any web strategy.  Boys being boys, we chipped off a large piece of ice while talking and we got the brainstorm that we should push it out on the lake, and Robin should stand on it until it reached the end of my dock.  To make a long story short, we ended up floating around the lake on a piece of ice talking about the future of iUpload.

On that little voyage we came up with a utility to convert direct email campaigns to RSS feeds called MailbyRSS, and what an industrial strength blogging system would look like for corporations.  Coming from the CMS world we knew that while it had to be simple like a lot of the public tools, we also had to have versioning and ways to audit, moderate and even edit the content of a group of bloggers. 

During 2004 we launched some pretty interesting clients like the Northwest Voice which was probably one of the more ambitious implementations of Participatory Journalism in the U.S.  We also worked on a project for the first Iraqi election translating our tools to Arabic and making them available via a group in the US called "Spirit of America"

2004 was a great year for us and got even better in 2005.

Demo@15 our 6 minutes of Fame

For those of you not familiar with Demo, it's a conference for VC's and press to see up and coming technology companies.  The thing is that you only get six minutes.  Oh, six minutes and no slides.  Many companies had launched their applications there.  iUpload auditioned (since you had to audition) and was accepted.  That's right, I spent Valentines Day 2005  with Robin Hopper in Scottsdale, AZ pitching our platform @Demo.  The late Marc Orchant was there and interviewed me in this podcast .  We not only launched our platform but a feature called "Perspectives" that allowed any post to integrate with, Yahoo Groups, and a host of other popular web apps.  It was a pretty cool event with the who's who of the computer industry.  I met Dan Bricklin who was one of the co-creators of Visicalc... the very first spreadsheet.  Yes, he invented the spreadsheet.  And Steven Levy of Newsweek hosted a dinner for the blogging companies at Demo. 

Demo was a big turning point for iUpload.  We stopped work on our CMS product and focused solely on our platform for what is now called Social Media.  We worked on some really neat projects all around social media.  We also launched some cool communities for people like the New York Times Regional Group (their community newspapers across the US) , Canadian Idol (don't snicker, we have talented people here in Canada), and a number of others.  We worked on a number of intranets for companies like McDonalds and Stillwater National Bank.

In those days it was not hard for people to confuse a lot of this with a single blog.  Fortunately, Charlene Li of Forrester Research did the first ever Wave Report on "Blogging Platforms".  While not full social media report, it did specifically talk about the various platforms and their ability to aggregate content, moderate it, and secure by individual permissions.  I'm happy to say we were the far right quadrant of that report (that's the best spot to be).  You can still read that report on our site along with other resources. In fact I think the industry owes a lot to Charlene who legitimized this with the corporate world.

OK, my "short little post" highlighting the history of Awareness is getting long, but you can see the momentum building in the industry.  It was shortly after the report that we began talking to VC's.  Organic growth would not keep up with this new industry, which was hitting the ground running.  Spring of 2007 we closed a round of VC funding by Greylock Partners and Northbridge Venture Partners

By summer 2007 we opened a new head office in the Boston area, changed our name to Awareness, and added to our executive team.  Software development still resides in Burlington, Ontario.
That's the short version of how we got started.  I intended to wrap this up in a few paragraphs, but just highlighting the major events got way down here on the page.  I have a feeling the next 5 years will have even more highlights, so watch for that post ;)


Comments | Add Comment

BY: Tarah Cammett (8/12/2021 11:25 AM)
COMMENT: You have no idea the joy I have in seeing this post! (:

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BY: Seth Moriarty (8/12/2021 1:25 PM)
COMMENT: Honestly... That's the best picture you could find? It looks like a scene out of "Grumpy Old Men".

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BY: Robin Hopper (8/13/2008 10:49 AM)
COMMENT: "A little Dave centric"? You forgot to mention the part when you invented the question mark and I said "great idea Dave". Also just for the record, there was scotch involved on the iceberg.

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BY: Renee Fox (8/15/2008 2:04 PM)
COMMENT: Wow!!! I'm tired just reading that.

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BY: Jason Mandell (8/21/2008 3:14 AM)
COMMENT: The legendary iceberg story is true. I love it!

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BY: Connie Bensen (8/27/2008 11:56 PM)
COMMENT: It is a great evolution. And I'm very glad that it was New Year's when you chose your ice berg.

Reply to Comment

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