Tellme It Ain’t So: McCue to Leave Speech Recognition Company He Co-Founded

Mike McCue, general manager and co-founder of Tellme, is leaving the company in June, he announced today.

Tellme—a speech recognition subsidiary of Microsoft, which bought the company in 2007—reports it handles 40 percent of all 411 calls in the U.S.
Replacing McCue will be Zig Serafin, general manager for the speech components group at Microsoft.  He will be responsible for merging the staff of the two companies, located in Mountain View, Calif., Redmond, Wash., and Beijing.

The news of McCue’s departure comes on the heels of a number of releases from Tellme and Microsoft, among them Tellme’s inclusion in the release of Windows Mobile 6.5, as well as a number of new cloud-based speech solutions. The announcement comes as no surprise to many.

“He’s an entrepreneur, a ‘starter,” writes Bill Scholz, president of the Applied Voice Input/Output Society and founder of consulting firm NewSpeech Solutions, in an email to Speech Technology. “I have to believe he found it difficult to cope with a management hierarchy the size of Microsoft’s.”

“I was actually surprised that the exoduses did not occur sooner,” says Judith Markowitz, president of J. Markowitz Consultants and an independent analyst in speech.

She explains that McCue’s staying on is a real testament to his commitment to his technology, “his baby,” holding on to the reigns of his company, and ensuring that its transition into Microsoft’s hands would go smoothly.

“If you recall when ScanSoft took over Nuance [Communications],” Markowitz explains, “people were ready to jump and they jumped even though Nuance was having lots of trouble and hanging by its fingernails and ScanSoft certainly wasn’t.”

Deborah Dahl, principal at speech and language consulting firm Conversational Technologies and chair of the World Wide Web Consortium’s Multimodal Interaction Working Group, for the most part agrees. She adds, however, that McCue’s exit may be a signal that Tellme is being more closely integrated into Microsoft, and there just isn’t as much room for someone like McCue. The recent spate of releases seems to confirm Microsoft’s intensified interest in leveraging Tellme’s offerings.

“This organizational change creates a speech center of excellence within Microsoft, so the company can better deliver on the potential of speech technology to improve customer experiences," Carly Godden, a spokesperson for Tellme, wrote in an email to Speech Technology. "Microsoft’s most substantial investment in speech technology and experiences, Tellme, is a shining example of a successful acquisition that is delivering real value to Microsoft customers in areas ranging from mobile phones to unified communications.”

She adds, however, that “Mike has been instrumental in making Tellme a core part of Microsoft’s long-term strategy.”

Whatever the case, Scholz writes of McCue, “I would keep a keen eye on him in the future. Expect another successful startup.”

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