What It's Like to Work at BeVocal Inc.

Interviewee: Mikael Berner, chief technology officer and co-founder

Company: BeVocal Inc., a real-time, interactive voice portal service that provides information such as driving directions, traffic and weather reports, stock quotes and flight information. BeVocal was founded March 1999. The service is in beta-test mode with 800 users; the formal launch is scheduled for this summer.

Location: Santa Clara, Calif.

Number of information technology employees: 45

Number of employees (end users): 60

Underlying technology: "It starts with a sea of servers that integrate telephony and IP technology—we're like a combination of a phone company and an Internet company." The architecture, dubbed the VocalBoost Platform, supports common services such as caller profiling, call monitoring, audio advertisement insertion, e-commerce transaction billing and settlement, security via voiceprint verification and various content delivery methods, including voice, e-mail, fax and wireless application protocol.

What skills do you look for? Network managers, Java programmers and people with speech experience, such as a background in linguistics.

How do you make money? "Revenue starts with product placement and ends in a sale. For example, if someone getting flight information wants to make a reservation or book a rental car, they can act on that immediately, and we make a cut on the transaction."

Who's your competition? "There are a few other start-ups looking to do the same thing we're doing, but we're mainly worried about the phone companies. They own the infrastructure, and they've been looking at speech recognition for a long time."

Workday: "IT tends to get cranking about 10 or 11 a.m. and works about a 12-hour day. But we're a little busier now because we're preparing for the launch. A normal day is 10 hours."

Dress code: Casual. "There seems to be a Hawaiian theme going on—a lot of loud shirts. And we have a Java programmer who shows up in full motorcycle leathers."

Employee reviews: Every six months.

Bonus programs: "We have an ad hoc bonus program based on effort and accomplishment. . . Also, people don't realize when they're working too hard, so we award them with time off and partial payment for a trip."

Kinds of offices: "We're in cubicles, and the space is divided into what we call 'vocal studios,' and we're naming them after famous vocalists. Nominees so far are Frank Sinatra, Barry White, Jimmy Buffett. We have one area designated as the Vocal Boost Cafe and we have a War Room."

The War Room? "That's where we meet daily to make sure that IT and marketing and sales are coming together for the launch. The motto on the door is, 'Try not. Do. . . or do not. There is no try,' by Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back."

Decor: "The walls are purple and red (the corporate colors) and we have orange pillars throughout. . . The pillars are concrete with steel reinforcement, but our CEO managed to put a huge dent in one during a backwards-chair race."

Number of employees who telecommute: "We have three telecommuters who live in other parts of the country. . . But it's not something we encourage in our recruiting."

On-site day care? No. "I have twin girls, so I wish we did."

In-house cafeteria/food service: Free sodas, coffee and junk food. Free dinners when people work late.

The one thing everyone complains about: "The amount of cell phone minutes they have. (Each employee gets) 500 cell phone minutes a month, and (the company) subsidize(s) a portion of that. And everyone is exceeding minutes."

Would employees feel comfortable e-mailing the CEO, Steve Tran? "Absolutely."

- Leslie Goff

Focus on Workstyles
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