Running a talent agency for “tech geniuses’’ really isn’t that different from running a talent agency for musicians, except software programmers typically don’t have the same ego as rock stars, said Michael Solomon, one of the founders of 10x Management.
Solomon, Rishon Blumberg, and Altay Guvench founded 10x, which represents freelance programmers, designers, and other tech professionals, in 2012. Blumberg and Solomon got the idea while running their own artist management company, Brick Wall Management, that represents musical artists, theater directors, and filmmakers.
They were trying to launch an app for music artists and realized that the software developers they were working with were very talented with technology, but horrible at writing contracts, negotiating fees, and communicating with clients.
“We learned very quickly that the developers were similar to musicians in that they were very good at what they did, but not necessarily good at handling the business side of things,’’ Solomon said. “We got really frustrated sometimes, wishing they had managers we could talk to in order to sort things out. Then, we realized there was a giant gaping hole here: No one was on the side of the developers.’’
Guvench, a musician and software developer, was their first client, but ended up joining the agency as the third co-founder. With Guvench’s help, the 10x team began working with more tech geniuses, negotiating their client contracts, fees, and work deliveries to make them as seamless as possible. Today, they have between 80 and 100 clients, and a waiting list of roughly 3,000 data scientists and software designers hoping to be represented by the firm.
Diamonds in the rough
Because many tech whizzes don’t have egos, the 10x founders have to be very meticulous when researching potential clients’ backgrounds. It’s easy to pass over a humdrum application that’s hiding an unbelievable software developer.
“In music, you put out a call to action for the best of the best to sign up, and you would have 10,000 submissions and five or 10 that are worth talking to,’’ Solomon said. “In tech, because their egos are on the other end of the spectrum, we will have people say, ‘I’m not sure if I’m a 10xer,’ but when you dig down, they’re fantastic. The waiting list contains a much higher percentage of talented people than I’d ever expected.’’
But despite the fierce demand for tech geniuses, especially among some of the most recognized tech companies in the country like Google, eBay, and Yelp, Solomon said 10x is very selective, and the firm will not represent most applicants. Each potential client must make it through multiple interviews, a thorough background check of past work, and a healthy dose of cyberstalking to make the cut.
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Boston on the cusp
In Boston, only one person has become a 10xer: Sheamus McGovern.
As founder of Code Works, a startup that specializes in mobile and web development, and chief architect at Tripod, a classroom-level survey provider, McGovern is extremely well versed in big data, product and business development, software architecture, and platform design. But you’d never know it from talking to him.
McGovern has been working with 10x for a little over a year and a half, and said he was introduced to the talent agency through a referral from another 10x developer. On the phone, McGovern declined to talk about any clients he’s worked with or past major projects. It was difficult to find much online information about the tech guru past his LinkedIn page.
“It’s a fascinating concept,’’ McGovern said of 10x. “I know many software developers. It’s very hard for customers to find out who has a good reputation and who doesn’t…They screened me very carefully.’’ Solomon described McGovern as a fabulous client with a terrific portfolio. But like most in his field, McGovern doesn’t seem to like talking about himself.
“It’s definitely a known fact that we tend to be somewhat modest about achievement, and also software developers and engineers, by definition — their skillset is not customer facing,’’ he said, adding that it’s been nice to focus more on development efforts rather than spending time searching and screening new clients, which 10x takes care of for him.
“It’s an awesome service,’’ he continued.
10x currently has between 15 and 20 developers and programmers on the waiting list in the Greater Boston area, a place where Solomon said he’d like to expand the firm’s presence. Currently, 10x is based in San Francisco and New York City. But for aspiring 10xers to get representation, they’ll have to work for it, just like Bruce Springsteen and Vanessa Carlton had to bust their chops to get the help of Brick Wall Management years ago.
“It’s similar to most other things in this category,’’ Solomon said. “You have to put in your 10,000 hours. I love playing tennis, but didn’t start till I was 30. In a month, if I play three or four times a week, my tennis game is much better at the end of the month than other months.’’
This same fortitude is necessary for programmers who are willing to dive into a new coding language and master it in a week, Solomon said.
“Really, what I’ve concluded is that people who are fantastic at one thing are harder to place than people who are fantastic at six things,’’ Solomon said. “It’s like everything else: it’s all about what you’re willing to put in.’’