If coders are the new rock stars, then it makes sense the music industry's hanger-ons want to play Scooter Braun to Silicon Valley's top engineers. That's exactly the case with 10x Management, a techie talent agency founded by two former music managers.
Michael Solomon and Rishon Blumberg, who represented John Mayer and Vanessa Carlton in a past life, are now taking 15 percent off the salaries off "the world's most sought-after technology professionals." Some of their clients include the co-creator of the Python coding framework Django and a core contributor to PHP.
According to the New Yorker, the duo decided to start a tech talent agency after a web development project went sideways. They walked away from the experience believing awkward developers needed managers to help them deal with business:
Solomon had also been struck by the developers' lack of business savvy: when he hired them, they didn't negotiate; they just took the first offer. He and Blumberg realized that they were dealing with "a really familiar personality type": talented people with zero business skills. "We were, like, 'This is a musician! This is what we're used to!' That was the light-bulb moment," Solomon said.
10x Management now represents over 80 engineers and designers all over the world, hooking up their roster of workers with corporate gigs paying rates as high as $250 an hour.
There are plenty of people who are skeptical about 10x's model. Chris Fry, the senior vice-president of engineering at Twitter from 2012 to June of this year, told me that bringing an agent into meetings would be "socially awkward." He also didn't need help finding programmers. "At Twitter, you get the best résumés on your desk already," he said. "There's an internal recruiting department, and you have all your referrals from the people who work there." Sam Altman, of Y Combinator, said that, in the small world of Silicon Valley, the very idea of talent agents presents a "negative-selection problem": "The actual 10x engineers don't need or want an agent; people quickly discover they're great, and they end up picking where (and especially with whom) they want to work. In my limited experience, the engineers that get agents are bad."
But [10x partner Altay Guvench] argued that his clients don't need help finding work; rather, they need people to help them navigate their options. "Tom Cruise doesn't need help finding work, but he has an agent," he said.
10x's concept isn't completely ridiculous. When large tech companies bring on new talent, final contract negotiations are usually made between the engineer and a C-level, VP, or director—managers with an extensive background in negotiations. Those bosses generally drill down the wages of the hapless developer who lacks similar skills (or lowball them from the get-go). Twitter might say having an agent is "socially awkward," but what they really mean is "it's bad for our bottom line."
But 10x's altruist rhetoric breaks down fast. Guvench goes from describing his agency as helping coders "navigate their options" to insisting that every single freelancer in Silicon Valley could be represented by talent agents:
Some people call this new world the "gig economy" or the "1099 economy," after the tax form used by freelancers. "I think it's the future of work," Guvench said. Mian agreed. "I think everyone should have a manager," he told me. "Not just creative people—everyone. It's cool to have an advocate and a confidant. We can all be rock stars."
In other words, with the right manager every Uber driver, Handy cleaner, and Postmates messenger could be a "rock star"—as long as they're willing to let go of (another) 15 percent.