July 17, 2001 5:20 PM PDT

Tellme cuts staff, loses co-founder

Voice portal company Tellme laid off close to 16 percent of its work force last week, as the company moved to focus on a narrower range of potential customers, the company said Tuesday.

The action marks the second round of layoffs in the course of the company's gradual shift in business strategy away from consumers and toward large companies such as airlines and telecommunications companies.

Tellme still offers free, voice-activated, Web-like information services through its voice portal service, available by calling a 1-800 telephone number. But its main business now lies in selling voice-browsing services to others, such as AT&T Wireless.

According to a spokeswoman, the layoffs largely affected the sales and marketing divisions, as a result of the company's decision to focus on a smaller number of large potential customers.

"The thought was, we're not about lots of customers," a spokeswoman said. "So let's reorganize the company around what we are about."

Included in the reorganization was the creation of a new "customer satisfaction" division, the company said.

Tellme is one of several companies still dedicated to bringing the click-and-browse world of the Web to the telephone. Its fortuitous timing in fund raising, garnering close to $185 million in separate investments late last year, gave it more stable financial footing than many technology companies have today.

Nevertheless, its narrowing business focus and two rounds of layoffs are a signal that Tellme also is feeling the economic downturn's chill.

About 41 employees, out of a total of 248, were laid off, a spokeswoman said.

Tellme also acknowledged Tuesday that its co-founder and vice president of production and professional services, Hadi Partovi, had left the company.

Partovi, who oversaw implementations of Tellme's technology and ran the company's voice and audio engineering teams, most recently worked on creating the new customer-satisfaction division. Before co-founding Tellme, Partovi was group program manager at Microsoft for the Internet Explorer Web browser.

Partovi, 28, left for personal reasons, according to Tellme. The former Microsoft manager, whose VW bug now bears the license plate "TELLME," plans to travel and work on his singing. Tellme was uncertain what, if any, title Partovi would retain with the company.

Partovi said that after two years taking Tellme from concept to launch and through the latest reorganization, he was ready for a break.

"I have put two years of time into this thing," Partovi said in an interview. "This is the most focused the company has been...I am comfortable leaving my baby."

 

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