Steve Lazaridis, Founder
About the Founder
Steve Lazaridis began his entrepreneurial journey long before his endeavor with Phonism. The Lazaridis family has owned and operated restaurants since they moved to the U.S. in the 1960s. Steve ventured into the family business and co-founded a restaurant in his early twenties. In the late 90s Steve started getting into tech and development and networking technologies that ultimately laid the groundwork for what was to come next, In 2015, Steve launched Phonism, a cloud-based VoIP (Voice-over-internet-protocol) phone provisioning service.
Phonism is a software solution that helps service providers save time and money on the deployment of VoIP phone service. Phonism eliminates the manual tasks associated with setting up and supporting these phones. Everything can be done through a centralized interface, saving service providers time and money and allowing for greater versatility.
About the Company
If you’ve ever worked in an office you’ve probably had a VoIP phone at your desk. Nowadays, those phones run over the internet rather than landlines. That may sound hi-tech but surprisingly the technology around this is somewhat primitive. Service providers (like Spectrum, Verizon, and Comcast) incur significant costs when setting up and supporting VoIP phones. Many providers still have to send technicians out to the customer’s location and set these phones up manually one by one. This is an obvious and unnecessary problem, one that Phonism was determined to solve.
Phonism was founded right here in Tampa Bay. The idea originally started as “scratch your own itch” problem when Steve’s brother Niko Lazaridis was deploying VoIP at another company. He noticed a lack of tools on the market for device provisioning and management. It was then when Niko approached Steve, the software engineer, with an idea to improve the system for VoIP service providers. After some time and coercing, Steve saw the market opportunity and brought in his friend Bill Edgington to help.
They built the first version of Phonism a few hours a week, working nights and weekends. They attended a few trade shows and had drawn some interest from potential customers before launching in 2015. After more than four years of nights and weekends, they released the first publicly available version of Phonism. Around that time, Steve joined a local co-working space/accelerator program called Tampa Bay WaVE to find mentorship and connections. By March 2016, Steve had already landed a few customers and hired his employees.
Financing the business was still challenging. However, Lazaridis would soon find new meaning to the words “Elevator Pitch.” Steve Stumbled upon Phonism’s First Angel investor, Richard McIntyre, in an elevator of the very building he worked in every day. As President of McIntyre Thanasides law firm and owner of the building, Richard frequented that elevator every day. With just a little luck and due diligence, Lazaridis was able to secure Phonism’s first $25,000 of angel funding from Richard McIntyre. Phonism later received another $25,000 angel investment from Greg Ross-Munro of SourceToad Ventures, a well-known face in Tampa’s startup scene.
All of this culminated in early 2017 when Laridis officially raised $350,000 in seed funding from First Round Tampa Bay, founded by Richard McIntyre and David Henderson, Director f HFO Investments.
Phonism now has five employees and has recently expanded their office space to the Tampa Bay WaVE’s larger facility in downtown Tampa’s Channel District. The Phonism team has their eyes on something much bigger, however. Steve’s ultimate goal is to build a thriving tech business right here in sunny Tampa Bay. Keeping jobs local and contributing to a budding entrepreneurial community is something that has remained important to Steve over the years.
Steve adds “With Tampa Bay up and coming as a tech community, it’s not just about growing your business here. It’s about contributing to the expanding tech ecosystem here in Tampa Bay region. Having a community-level impact is much harder to do in places like Silicon Valley”