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It can take an hour or more for Bruce Brown to explain what his company does. Brown, chief executive of Woodland Hills-based Vertel Corp., uses three levels of description depending on the tech savvy of his listeners to detail the company’s development of telecommunications management software. He always talks slowly and offers analogies, comparing network routers and switches to managers and bosses. “We emphasize what it does over and over,” Brown said. Vertel is like dozens of other tech companies that make backbone products for technology-related firms. Explanations about its products run the risk of being convoluted and steeped in jargon, which can hurt its ability to attract investors. In Vertel’s case, investors have been slow to buy in (the stock trades for around $2.25). “It takes time (to build name recognition) unless you’re like Amazon.com,” Brown said. “They had two things going for them consumer knowledge and brand name.” Venture capitalists agree that companies must communicate clearly or risk losing out no matter how strong their technology. “If they can’t successfully tell what they do, then it’s something we need to worry about,” said Jon Funk, managing partner of Media Technology Ventures, a Los Angeles-based venture capital firm. The longer the explanation, Funk says, the less likely it is that venture firms will invest. Even the Software Council of Southern California has trouble understanding and explaining the work of some member companies. “A lot of the terminology people use is very funny,” said Bill Manassero, executive director of the organization, who says he uses a technology glossary found on the Internet to understand many terms. “I’m not a techie guy. I get with these engineers and sometimes my eyes just glaze over.” He said the industry is generating a new language that’s hard to follow for the uninformed. “There’s POP (point of presence) accounts, cable modems, DSL (digital subscriber lines). We’re getting buried in acronyms,” Manassero said. Brown knows the pitfalls well. “We’re trying to figure out our message,” he said. “If we’re successful, eventually people will know us as the company that makes communication happen, and that’s a good thing.” So how does Brown explain the kind of work Vertel does? “We make stupid phones intelligent,” is his simplest description. The more complicated version, outlined in Vertel’s annual report, describes the company as a developer and marketer of “network management software applications for wireless and telecommunications management networks.” Some companies have gone to great creative lengths to avoid confusion. Cliff Numark, program director of the Los Angeles Regional Technology Alliance, said one firm created a 10-minute video on its Web site to get the basic message out. “Most people understand that it’s a software firm or information technology or biotech, but rarely do they get into the nitty-gritty,” Numark said. At Moorpark-based Accelerated Networks Inc., corporate communications director Kathy Tebben has learned to use analogies in presentations to people without a basic understanding of computer networks. “It’s like someone who (only) knows about getting into a car trying to understand the engine,” she said. Accelerated Networks makes telephone switches that allow voice and Internet access simultaneously on one phone line. But after five minutes of explanation, Tebben begins to get deadpan looks from people. “They’re kind of like, ‘Yeah, OK,’ ” she says. The company has plans to go public later this year no doubt appealing to institutional investors who might have a better understanding of the switching business than the general public. Bob Lam, vice president of research with Bear Stearns, said most investors are interested in a ballpark description of a technology company. “Sometimes you have to sacrifice the terms or it’s too much lingo,” he said. “With one company, Internet security is as much as you want to say.” The work of many companies even stumps Lam, though he added that “at the end of the day, good technology with a good market drives profits.” Brown believes it’s not necessarily important for people to understand what Vertel does as long as they know its name. “Intel Corp. had the same problem people didn’t understand what a microprocessor was,” Brown said. “They still don’t really know what it is. But they know if something has Intel inside, it’s good.” Manassero compared the challenge of understanding computer technology to the learning process involved with a car or TV set. “My philosophy is, just smile and grin and you don’t have to know exactly what they’re talking about,” Manassero said. “The terms will change anyway.”

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