R. Grant Baxley founded TeleVoIPS in 2009, and the company has grown dramatically and earned a rock-solid reputation.
We visited Grant in the beautiful TeleVoIPS office and got the scoop on the company, Grant’s career, the VoIP world, and our usual ‘Tampa, tech, and talent.’
Roxanne Williams: For those who aren’t super familiar with TeleVoIPs, can you give us the 30,000-foot overview of what you do and what problem you’re solving?
R. Grant Baxley: We are a business phone service provider. We use the internet to make phone calls. The problem we solve is that local carriers in the area don’t have the level of customer service that we provide. We do a lot of custom solutions for our clients, so we work with contact centers – the types of businesses that see extra value in the reporting features of it. Also, we offer integrations with CRM systems like Salesforce and Zendesk. When someone calls into one of our clients, they’ll see a screen bring up the customer record, and they’ll be able to start typing notes in that account.
Matt Vaughn: Is there recording with that as well? I know some of them record and put it into the CRM.
Grant: All the CRM systems are different. We do have different levels of integration based on what they have available, but many of them do log the call automatically. Also, we have call logging on our side. Additionally, we provide a virtual switchboard that allows our clients to tag calls in real time.
One of our clients is a coffee maker, so every call that comes in, they need to decide what to tag it as. They have the ability to do that on our system, and they can run reports there. So, even companies that don’t have advanced CRM systems can still get from our solutions.
Roxanne: When you say tagging, you mean like, “Hey, this was a customer service call, this was a sales call,” that type of thing?
Grant: You can actually program whatever tag you want. However, for that specific client, I don’t know off the top of my head what their line items were. But, they were able to customize 7 different items, and then in our virtual switchboard, it allows you to say, “Okay, this call was for this matter.” It was a complaint, or it was feedback, or whatever programmed item that you put in there. And then at the end of the month, they have people that report on all those types of calls that came in so they can see the data, without a separate CRM system.
Roxanne: That’s pretty cool.
On his accomplishments and failures
Matt: What’s been your proudest accomplishment so far at TeleVoIPs?
Grant: Building the team that we have. We have some great people here. I know you guys have already met Katie – she’s out there spreading our good word.
Matt: She’s a ball of smiles and energy.
Grant: Yes. But behind her, we have our strong tech team, and that’s what people are looking for. That level of customer service, those knowledgeable experts that can help you define your call flow, and how it works best for your business. Also, solving call quality issues. There are a lot of variables in the VoIP world. You have your own router, you have your own internet, and then you have us on top of it. We see things as simple as Dropbox causing issues. So, it’s important to have a strong team of people that can solve those issues.
Roxanne: When I was doing research on you guys, I looked through all your employees on LinkedIn, and I didn’t see any tech people. Are they subcontracted?
Grant: No, we’re all internal. There are 15 of us. Actually, I’m surprised that none of them are tech on LinkedIn but they all have tech backgrounds. Many of them are certified in SIP school (SIP stands for session-initiated protocol, which is a VoIP term). All of our Level 2 engineers are.
Roxanne: Okay. So, on the flip side of the proudest accomplishment, have there been any, “oh shit” moments?
Grant: This is my second business – I don’t know if you guys knew that. I ran an IT company for 10 years before starting this one. So, I had plenty of “oh shit” moments that first 10 years.
Matt: And you sold that off to pursue this, right?
Grant: Yes. Greg Zolkos purchased my IT firm (Atlas Professional Services) back in 2014, and I haven’t looked back. TeleVoIPs is my passion and I love it. Yes, we’ve made our mistakes, but mistakes are an opportunity to prove yourself. When something goes wrong, it’s how you handle it that keep a long-term client. But I strongly feel I made a lot of my early-on mistakes in my first business, and it’s definitely helped me to grow this one.
On TeleVoIPs’ amazing reputation
Matt: Alright! You guys have an amazing 5-star rating on Google. What makes–
Grant: We paid all those people [laughter].
Matt: I was going to say, who did you pay off and what did they charge? [laughter] Tell us what makes TeleVoIPs so good at what they do and how you keep hitting on that ‘customer service is key’ mentality.
Grant: All of our employees own the process. The reason why we have so many reviews is because it’s part of our process. We want to make sure that our clients have the chance to review every step of the way. Was the project management done properly, was the install done properly, was the training done properly?
Everybody has their own responsibility here, and they know that every part of the questionnaire that we send out at the end is going to determine how well they are seen in the client’s eyes. So, the fact that everybody owns their part, I think contributes to our 5-star rating on Google.
Matt: Yeah, I’ve never heard anything bad about you guys. Nothing but good, which is strange in the VoIP world, because typically everybody hates their VoIP provider.
Grant: That’s very true. And honestly, it makes it easy for us here in the Tampa Bay area with the two acquisitions of BrightHouse and Verizon.
On the TeleVoIPs involvement in the tech community
Roxanne: Back in 2017, Tampa Bay Tech named you Technology Connector of the Year. Other than your SIP Nights, are you involved in the tech community in Tampa? Can we spot you at the big events like Synapse, poweredUP, Startup Week? How important is that connectivity to you?
Grant: I love to attend all of those events. In fact, I’ve been to every single one you mentioned.
Our SIP nights are an evening where all of our partners come together. I like to take those events and make it so that others in the same industry can connect and be friendly, because out there on the playing field, they run into each other in a different way. This is over beers. It’s a nice time for them to chat and learn about each other.
Apart from SIP Night, we work on a daily basis with our partners. We connect with them, they ask us questions. I think running an IT company in the past allowed me to really connect with our other IT partners out there.
Roxanne: Since you’ve been to all those big events, what do you think of the tech scene in Tampa?
Grant: Being in the tech industry for over 10 years, I see it growing. Most of our partners are true IT managed service firms. However, I also see the growth in different parts of tech. You have development tech, IoT, and a bunch of other technologies here in Tampa Bay. But specifically in managed service provider growth, we have partners that have only been in business for two or three years. We’ve seen the growth because we know that they didn’t exist 5 years ago, and the partners that did exist 5 years ago, they’re just getting bigger. They’re not going out.
They have healthy competition from the new people, but the need is there in Tampa. And again, this is specifically for managed service providers, which are a huge part of the tech industry. And we have some big players here in Tampa in the MSP world. But the medium-sized guys, they’re the lifeblood of Tampa. Think of all the little things that you run into as a corporation: viruses and emails, phishing attempts, all these things. MSPs are there to protect you, and they are busy all the time. So, one of the reasons why we do our SIP nights is, “Let me buy you a beer because of all that hard work you’re doing.” And that’s really what we see our events as too.
Roxanne: Who do you count as a mid-size MSP in Tampa?
Grant: Mid-size would be CIO Tech, Atlas Professional Services, LAIR Services, RTS, Symmetric Engineering. There’s no way I could name them all – we have about 60 partners here in Tampa, and then another 40 in JacksonVille.
How TeleVoIPS actually works
Matt: For those also unfamiliar with the VoIP world, the providers, and the client side: how exactly is that broken down? Does your team handle all sales, and the creation of the software? Do you guys get the hardware from someone else? Do you have a partner team that sells your services?
Grant: We don’t white label. The service is TeleVoIPs’, and our IT partners refer us. In essence, they create that trusted relationship with us and our client. As a business owner, your IT company is the person you trust. They bring us in and we actually come on site, we do a demo with our phones, we put phones on the desk, and we bring our magic bag out with us.
Basically, it’s a bag that we have our own power in, and we bring our own internet. We don’t touch their network – we put a phone on their desk, a nice little wow factor, and they make phone calls. It uses the 4G LTE network, which sets us apart from any of the national providers. Now, we don’t actually make the phones. We use trusted solutions from Mytel, Polycom, Yealink, and Grandstream. Additionally, we have partnered with a local company called Phonism for provisioning a wide variety of devices for our clients.
Matt: Buddies with Steve?
Grant: Yes. Really great guy, amazing guy. We utilize his platform to support every VoIP phone out there. A lot of the VoIP providers will say, “Oh, no, you have to buy our device.” We don’t require that. You can have Polycoms, or you can have a 10 year old Cisco. No problem – we’ll provision that to our system. You won’t get all the features of TeleVoIPs with those old, old phones, but you’re saving money by doing that. And we’re also helping another local business grow.
We are all in house. We actually started with our platform using an open source solution and we’ve customized it a lot. It allowed us to kind of provide our own APIs to the system, which allows the integration to happen with different CRM systems, our own reporting modules, a lot of neat stuff like that. Additionally, we have three different data centers. Two in Tampa, and one in Atlanta. We have no single point of failure. Many other VoIP companies out there simply resell some other product that can be white labelled. We just don’t do that. The direct solution is what we provide.
On his mentoring
Roxanne: Nice. Your site’s bio says that you mentor USF students in local startups. What is the breadth of your mentorship? What do you teach the aforementioned groups?
Grant: I graduated from USF. Several classes asked me to come back and talk about my first business – I haven’t done that in a while, but I used to talk on ICS and the challenges that it took to get to where I got. Recently, I worked with a company called LeapCaller which did the IT authorities High Tech Connect event.
Roxanne: Yeah, they do whole registration thing!
Grant: Right! They leverage a third party to build out their solution, and I think they have a great solution starting up. They can fill that gap of what those businesses need. But they look to me for some of the technology side of it, what they can do to be more efficient, how they can grow their business, and what partnerships they need to create. So, I’ve worked with them. I’m always open, I enjoy doing that sort of stuff, just working with other business owners. It doesn’t have to be from USF, but I am partial to them.
Talent in Tampa
Matt: Being that you’ve hired for tech since 2009, what have you seen as far as trends in tech talent locally?
Grant: We look at tech a little differently. I have the need for voice technicians, installers, call flow experts. Then, I have a need for developers on the web side, but also developers on the voice side, which is a very unique piece. There’s some unique stuff. Actually, right before you guys reached out to me, I was scouring LinkedIn for someone that had some specific expertise we wanted to look at.
We’re looking at integrating IBM Watson into our platform, which would allow you to see calls in real time with our virtual switchboard. For example, you could have a popup that says, “Hey, this call that’s actively going on with Joe is being escalated.” You hear a bad tone on that phone call, it alerts the manager, and then they can have the prompt to say, “Would you like to listen in on this call?” Rather than a manager actually saying, “Let me listen on Joe today, see how he’s doing.”
So, you can get those insights in real time and manage it all. Those are the types of things that we’re working on right now, and the expertise out there is, I just haven’t found it in Tampa.
Matt: VoIP engineers and VoIP-related stuff isn’t exactly homegrown in college because it’s very niche, but has a whole lot of depth to it. How have you been overcoming that? Have you tried to move people in from out of state, or are you taking some of the kids from USF and just teaching it to them? I’ve worked with many MSPs in the past, and they tend to hire somebody that seems motivated and train them, versus trying to find a fully-trained engineer.
Grant: We do that. Furthermore, we attend conferences in our industry and connect with others in the industry there. I’ve met a few really great people, both on the business side and the individual side. So, I’ll connect with a business in my same industry, and I’ll say, “Hey, who are you using to accomplish these tasks?” And they’ll connect me with their contractor. A lot of it is contractor work, because it’s so specialized. It’s hard to have ongoing jobs for that one specific detail.
Matt: Especially when you have ridiculous architect-level stuff.
The TeleVoIPS tech stack
Roxanne: For the TeleVoIPs website, what tech stack do you guys use? What do you code in?
Grant: It’s written in PHP. Our customer portals, are custom-designed by our in-house developers. We’re always looking to improve our customer interfaces and I’m sure we will see a redesign soon, but it’s worked for us for years.
On talent retention
Roxanne: What do you think Tampa as a whole should do to increase talent retention? We’re seeing this trend of Tampa workers working remote for different states that give them higher pay. How can we, as a city, make positions more attractive for workers to make them want to stay here?
Grant: That’s a good question. I think that we are providing more jobs. Maybe other states pay more. It’s possible. But I do think that the needs are growing here for the positions that pay more. On the flip side, do we have enough of the talent? I believe we need to create more training programs, and we need to make the colleges more invested in local businesses, and build up the tech side of it.
I graduated from USF in 2007, and there are so many more programs now that didn’t exist when I was there. They have USF Connect, they have all these incubator programs happening. I wish I had some of that stuff when I was going. So, it’s good to see at least some of the colleges evolving.
Matt: Yes, there’s a lot of innovation coming out of there. Looking at Abacode – I don’t know if you know them or their efforts with USF.
Grant: They’re a partner of ours and we work with them often.
Matt: Jeremy starting a lot of the security groups and programs over there. It’s good to see USF focus on disciplines the local market is lacking.
Roxanne: There’s a lot of progress in the area compared to a few years ago. Florida Poly is pumping out some great talent, and we have five whole coding schools now. It’s getting up there.
Tech in Tampa
Matt: What do you hope to see in the next few years when it comes to tech in Tampa?
Grant: Maybe starting the kids earlier, like at the elementary level. A good friend of mine, Paul, started up The Code Revolution. He’s training 8 year old kids to build games. I’m thinking maybe we need more of that. Get them interested early on the tech side. In school, you can only learn so much. They have to teach you all the basics. But if you get that extra-curricular in, you’re able to understand more development aspects of it. He’s using a program called Scratch. You guys heard of Scratch before?
Roxanne: I have not.
Grant: Well it’s by MIT, and you can build your own game, drag and drop. My son attended a couple of those classes and he absolutely loved it. I’m not a developer myself, but it at least gets him interested in that world early on.
Matt: Even for more in-depth designs, you can prototype stuff so quickly with visual scripting. In fact, there are some tools built out for Unity that I’ve used, and it’s crazy how quickly you can whip up a demo or MVP. It’s impressive to see that they’re using that for different kids’ programs.
Roxanne: I grew up in backwoods Quebec. During my senior year of high school, we finally got a computer lab. Our final project was to create a game in Visual Basic. I’m dating myself, but I wish I’d had the opportunity to learn that a sooner. That started my love for tech, and from there, I learned HTML, CSS, etc. You have to get them young.
Grant: I 100% agree. You guys should check it out too, The Code Revolution. He has some neat stuff going on. There are other places that are similar, of course.
Matt: Who is someone in Tampa that you think is doing something cool and innovative in the tech sector, outside of TeleVoIPs?
Grant: Phonism. Steve is a cool guy. His other passion is baking breads. Just the pictures alone, I think that’s cool too, because I can’t cook.
Book / podcast recs
Roxanne: Bread is, indeed, an art. Do you have a book or a podcast recommendation for our tech reading list?
Grant: Let’s see. I like The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. That was one that helped me pinpoint potential problem areas to avoid.
Roxanne: Not a podcast person?
Grant: I’m not. However, I do a lot of tech reading, a lot of news articles. I try and stay up to date with what’s out there.
Matt: What websites do you go to typically?
Grant: With Google, it kind of pushes it in my face these days. My goodness. I get articles sent to me based on my searches.
Roxanne: Do you have any issues with privacy when it comes to that? Do you feel like it’s a little bit of a violation sometimes, like, quit reading my results?
Grant: Me personally, no. I don’t have an issue with it. But I know a lot of people do.
Roxanne: Yeah. I have more of an issue with the listening aspect. A while ago, I told my partner, “I really want to see Kingsman.” And then the next day, I start getting ads for Kingsman. I’m like, “Okay.”
Matt: Any further thoughts you’d like to share? Anything exciting coming down the pipeline for TeleVoIPs or yourself?
Grant: USF’s having the Fast 56 event where we’re being awarded again. Our fourth year in a row! We’re very excited about that.
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