Kara Swisher

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Exclusive: Tellme Founder and GM McCue Departs, as Microsoft Reorganizes Its Speech Recognition Unit

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After running one of the more successful Silicon Valley acquisitions by Microsoft for several years, Tellme Networks founder and GM Mike McCue (pictured here) will be leaving the company at the end of June.

As part of the transition, Zig Serafin, who has been running a lot of the speech technology efforts for the software giant at its Redmond, Wash., HQ, is taking over the voice services subsidiary and all the other related units.

They will be made into a single, yet-unnamed, team with about 400 employees in total.

McCue and Serafin are now meeting with Tellme staff at its Mountain View, Calif., HQ about the changeover.

“It was time to move on, after a long and really successful time at a big company,” said McCue, in an interview with BoomTown two weeks ago. “Voice technology is an area that I think Microsoft is committed to excelling in and the new configuration will help ensure that.”

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Serafin (pictured here), a 10-year Microsoft veteran, said as much in another interview yesterday. “This is an opportunity to bring together the group to allow it to innovate across Microsoft,” he said. “We really want to advance this user interface for computing.”

Serafin said he would be spending four days a week in Silicon Valley, as part of that effort, using Tellme as the center of a “whole new speech center of excellence.”

Microsoft (MSFT) has long been aiming at differentiating itself from the popular iPhone from Apple (AAPL), which has revolutionized the mobile market via its innovative touch and movement technology, by drilling down on making speech recognition technology a popular consumer application.

It bought Tellme in 2007 for $800 million as part of that effort. Competitors in the space include Google (GOOG) and Nuance.

For example, Tellme recently announced “one-button” voice access for Windows-enabled mobile phones, as well as some new technologies to improve call automation for customer service centers.

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McCue has been a pioneer in the use of speech in the mobile arena, founding Tellme in 1999. Previous to Tellme, he was VP of technology at Netscape, the once-dominant browser company.

McCue said he will be taking some time off after he leaves Tellme and then plans on working on another start-up and advising companies.

Below is a picture from a 1999 board meeting at Tellme, when it was private. It includes McCue, as well as former Netscape execs Peter Currie and Mike Homer (click on image to make it larger).

And, below that, are two video interviews I did with McCue in March of last year.

One is a tour of the Tellme HQ and another is a longer chat with McCue–whom I once called the “Patty Hearst of Silicon Valley” for being so dang sunny in an Associated Press story about what life was like after a takeover by the software giant, in the midst of Microsoft’s failed attempt to buy Yahoo (YHOO).

In it, I noted that he displayed “the cheeriness of someone with acute Stockholm syndrome and $800 million in Microsoft money.”

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Tellme HQ Tour:

McCue Talks About Mobile Devices:


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