Shawn Domer of Aware

An exclusive Tech Tribune Q&A with Jeff Schumann (co-founder and Director of Product Engineering) of Aware, which was honored in our:
Tell us the origin story of Aware – what problem were you trying to solve and why?

We met at Nationwide. Matt Huber and I were consultants on Jeff Schumann’s team. We were brought in to help migrate Nationwide’s SharePoint instance to the latest version and build an employee-focused search and intranet on SharePoint. Jeff owned several collaboration applications as part of his role at Nationwide, one of which was Yammer.

When Matt and I approached Jeff to see if he had any ideas for what we could build on the side, he immediately thought of the security gap with Yammer. A company could only monitor it using one keyword list with a notification email. We knew that was insufficient for bigger enterprises using the product. Legal, security, and HR departments needed more controls before rolling out Yammer to an organization. We decided to build a product to meet their needs.

What was the biggest hurdle you encountered in your journey?

From a technology standpoint, we had challenges in the early days processing and searching the content at scale. In 2020, when all our customers switched to fully remote overnight because of COVID, the number of messages and files we needed to process per customer doubled and sometimes tripled. This caused a ripple effect throughout our system of optimizations we needed to make. It was a long couple of months, but we became better because of it.

What does the future hold for Aware?

I, and everybody at Aware, are excited about Aware’s future. Aware will continue to train and refine AI models to augment the numerous features already available within our platform. These features will help our users to be more efficient with their analysis and interpretation of the data we collect and enrich. We see AI’s true power as a way to increase human productivity, not as a replacement.

What are your thoughts on the local tech startup scene in Columbus?

There are so many great startups in Columbus and the state of Ohio in general. In addition to this, there are many larger companies and universities nearby. This lends itself to a great talent pool and city amenities that make living here attractive.

What’s your best advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?

Choose your co-founders wisely. Jeff, Matt, and I met for many hours to agree on what we wanted to build and how to do it. We kept each other going through the tough times and could trust each other to work independently towards our goal. When transitioning to being a funded company and “growing the business”, keeping egos in check is important. You might have been able to ideate and build a great product, but that does not mean you are the right person to lead/grow a department in your area (e.g., engineering, sales, etc). They are different skill sets and sometimes require real-world experience. In other words, focus on finding a role that helps your startup thrive, and don’t get hung up on being a C-level or high-level people leader because you are a founder.


For more exclusive interviews, see our full Profile of a Founder series