Autodialer software takes small campaigns to the big leagues

Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Phil Angelides and Los Altos Hills City Councilman Breene Kerr ran November campaigns on differing scales, Angelides with a war chest of nearly $10 million and Kerr with almost $10,000. Nonetheless, both used the same technology to call voters with personalized messages - a software-based autodialer created by Voicent Communications Inc., a Los Altos-based company founded by Michelle and Joe Wu of Los Altos Hills.

"The concept of the autodialer has existed for 20 or 30 years," Michelle Wu said. "We implemented software to do the work of hardware."

Instead of purchasing a physical autodialer, which can cost $50,000, Michelle said, clients can choose among software packages that range from $300 to several thousand dollars. The product synthesizes speech recording and Internet technology to computerize communication.

The broadcast-by-phone program can be run from a laptop or desktop computer. It requires only a voice modem and conventional telephone line. Schools and businesses input names into the Excel-type database and use the automated service to distribute announcements and appointment reminders. Political candidates such as Angelides, Kerr and, two years ago, Los Altos Hills Councilman Craig Jones, can input a list of registered voters for their district.

Michelle, who supported Kerr and Los Altos Hills Councilman Dean Warshawsky in the recent election - both incumbents won re-election - requested a list of registered Los Altos Hills voters from the County Registrar of Elections and within 10 days called nearly 2,200 residents from her home phone line. When someone answered the phone, he or she heard Kerr and Warshawsky's voices, urging them to vote Nov. 7. The program recorded in the database whether it had gotten through to a person or left a message.

"This is a typical Silicon Valley garage company," she said. "Because it is software-based, it doesn't need a big fab (fabrication plant), and the costs are relatively low. You just need some good software people to put it together."

Before starting Voicent, Michelle became familiar with software development as a product manager at Sun Microsystems and Hewlett-Packard. She works the marketing and sales end of Voicent, while Joe handles product design and development. They have outsourced the development offshore.

For more information, visit or call (408) 725-7578.

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