The One-Name Email, a Silicon Valley Status Symbol, Is Wreaking Havoc

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In Silicon Valley, first-name-only email addresses have long been the ultimate status symbol, indicating a techie was an early hire at a new company. Now that startups are growing, the one-namers are wreaking havoc—and the competition to snag them is fierce.

Just ask Peter@mammoth.la.

When Peter Szabo heard he and his co-workers would receive new email addresses after his tech company was launched from an incubator, he ran to his boss and confirmed he would get the “Peter” first-name email address.

After years of failing to arrive at companies early enough to bag the prized address, Mr. Szabo negotiated getting the single-name email at the earliest opportunity.

“As companies get bigger, if you can be the original Peter, absolutely that’s bragging rights,” said Mr. Szabo, who is chief revenue officer of mobile-entertainment network startup Mammoth Media. “It’s huge.”

He couldn’t get the email at Science, the tech incubator, because it was already taken by another Peter, who had co-founded the firm, Peter Pham. Mr. Pham had previously tried to get colleagues at the incubator to call Mr. Szabo by his last name to secure his status as The Peter of Peter@science-inc.com.

Startups are growing faster than at any time since the dot-com boom thanks to a flood of venture capital. The system of using first names is leading to more email misfires at tech companies the more successful, and larger, they get.

Mr. Pham already knew about first-name havoc. He fell victim to the confusion when reaching out to another company,

Snap
Inc.

He thought he sent an email to Snapchat’s chief strategist,

Imran Khan,

recommending a new hire.

“Wrong Imran,” read the reply Mr. Pham says he received.

Mr. Pham had fired off the email to a first-name-only address at Snap, assuming it was the company’s No. 2 executive.

But that address was assigned to a Snap engineering manager, who joined the company a year before Mr. Khan, and received the desirable first-name email.

Even techies are having a hard time figuring out how to disrupt the naming convention of corporate email. The growing pains usually set in when startups reach 25 to 50 employees, as names begin to overlap, according to Josh Walter, who has designed email services for companies for the past eight years.

“That’s when companies say, ‘Oh no, what do we do now?’ ” Mr. Walter says. He is currently IT engineer at Second Measure, a Silicon Valley startup that analyzes consumer spending.

The company has nearly 40 workers, and already there are six pairs of duplicate names—two Michaels, three Matts, a Vicki and a Vicky, two Kathryns, two Christophers and two Fabians at the company—something Mr. Walter describes as “a statistically improbable amount of overlap for sure.”

Mr. Walter is considering rolling out the first initial and last-name format at Second Measure, which could stop new employees from maneuvering to try to get their first names as their addresses. But even that naming convention may outgrow itself. If the company gets really large, Mr. Walter could see handing out emails with full given and surnames to be safe.

That is what executives at cloud-data management startup Rubrik Inc. did after raising nearly $300 million in funding. Executives had been letting new hires choose their own emails—including many first-name addresses and one single-letter email address. Rubrik started standardizing its email format when the company reached about 100 employees and was adding four to six new employees a week, said Rubrik’s Chief Technology Officer, Arvind Nithrakashyap.

When Silicon Valley product manager

Adam Bain

joined

Twitter
Inc.

as an executive in 2010, the social-media startup had already assigned the “Adam” email to an engineer. Though some executives feared the engineer would receive Mr. Bain’s emails, the company decided against taking the coveted first-name email from the earlier employee, according to a person familiar with the discussions.

Mr. Bain, who left Twitter in 2016, says he didn’t want the first-name address anyway because he thought he would receive too many emails from users requesting special official accounts.

Within two years, there were eight employees with the name “Adam” at Twitter. They received so many misdirected emails, they started meeting for lunch, Twitter’s former head of analytics Adam Kinney recalls.

“As mine were often some government contact in crisis, the other Adams were often glad the email wasn’t for them when it came along,” said Adam Sharp, Twitter’s former head of news, government and elections, who left in 2016.

The two Neds currently at Twitter can relate. When

Ned Segal

became Twitter’s chief financial officer in August, he didn’t receive the first-name email address because Twitter account manager Ned Miles beat him to it three years earlier.

The majority of misfired emails that Mr. Miles receives intended for Mr. Segal are event invites.

When Dan Schulman became

PayPal
’s

CEO in 2014, the company reassigned to him the first-name email address that had belonged to a PayPal customer-service rep, according to a person familiar with the matter.

All bets are off when employees share similar first and last names. Silicon Valley startup AppLovin had started issuing email addresses that included first and last names when Chief Marketing Officer Katie Jansen decided to hire her intern, Katy Jensen.

Colleagues warned Ms. Jansen that Ms. Jensen might receive her confidential emails.

Ms. Jansen, who has a first-name address, gave Ms. Jensen a full-name version with Katelyn instead of Katy, and reminded employees of their different duties. The actions haven’t fully stopped the email confusion, though they have staved off serious misfires, Ms. Jansen said.

What the marketing chief didn’t anticipate was the mixed-up laundry. AppLovin hires a laundry company to clean its employees’ clothes, and Ms. Jensen, who now works at the company full time, sometimes receives skinny jeans belonging to Ms. Jansen’s 8-year-old daughter mixed with her own clothes.

Write to Georgia Wells at Georgia.Wells@wsj.com

Appeared in the June 9, 2018, print edition as ‘The One-Name Email Causes Chaos in Silicon Valley.’



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