An entrepreneur since he was 17, Ilya Pozin is pretty frank about his weaknesses: “I don’t know how to build websites,” he says. And later he adds, “I’m a terrible manager.”
Neither detail is particularly noteworthy unless you know that he runs a $5.5 million Web design business with more than 40 employees.
But the fact that he knows what he isn’t good at might be, in fact, what helped Pozin grow his high school hobby into a profitable business.
Growing up, Pozin was the classic computer nerd: the kid who had trouble making friends, so he turned instead to playing computer games and figuring out how the machines worked. He moved to the U.S. from Russia in 1991. He couldn’t speak English but he could play Space Invaders and chess on floppy disk. One thing led to another and soon he became the high school’s resident computer expert. When friends and acquaintances started asking him for help building websites in the late nineties, he had to admit he didn’t know how to code.
But then he did what any entrepreneurial kid would do: He teamed up with friends--a programmer and a designer--who could do the coding. Ciplex was born.
Almost all of Pozin’s best business moves have involved recognizing when he’s not the right man for the job.
Take his first real hire. In 2007 a sales guy showed up unannounced at the company’s tiny L.A. office and pitched Pozin on why he should give him a job as Ciplex’s sales rep. “He sold me,” Pozin says. “I hired him on the spot and didn’t even know how I was going to pay him.”
It was a good move: Ciplex hit its first million in revenue the next year. “That made me realize, wow, there are people who are better than me.” He subsequently hired a project manager, because Pozin had been performing those duties too, and in 2009 even replaced himself with another CEO. “I was driving a lot of my employees crazy,” Pozin says. “My strength has always been marketing.” He recently decided to drop the management hierarchy altogether--a move he says has eliminated the problem of micromanagement and motivated employees to collaborate more effectively.
Now the company has found a sweet spot in the crowded Web design industry--small to mid-size businesses looking for a great product that’s still affordable. Pozin says Ciplex takes on 20-30 projects a month and accepts only 7% of the business offers the company receives. “We’d love to grow,” he says, “but because we’re self-funded, it’s important to grow smart.” In 2011, the company reached $4 million in revenue and is projecting $5.5 million for 2012.
For now, he says leaving 93% of the business on the table is a good problem to have. “It lets us pick and choose and work with the best clients,” he says. “We’re not pixel pushers.”
2011 Read about Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger of Instagram, Matt Mickiewicz of 99designs, and Hayley Barna and Katia Beauchamp of Birchbox. Plus the start-up stories of Quora, Onswipe, Dropbox, Foodspotting, and Gemvara.
2010 Meet Alexa von Tobel of Learnvest, Naveen Selvadurai of Foursquare, Jack Abraham of Mint.com, plus the founders of Rent the Runway, Airbnb, Crowdflower, Posterous, LivingSocial, and Urban Escapes (now part of Living Social).
2009 Pete Cashmore of Mashable, Elliott Bisnow of Summit Series, Danielle and Jodie Snyder of Dannijo, Jamail Larkins of Larkins Enterprises were included on our 2009 list, as were the teams behind ModCloth, Thrillist, IdeaPaint, Foodzie, and Justin.TV.