Friday, February 22, 2008

About Sabeer Bhatia

Rags to riches - the Biography of the man who created Hotmail and is one of the Richest man in US
When he was only 28, Sabeer Bhatia got the call every Silicon Valley entrepreneur dreams of: Bill Gates wants to buy your company. Summoned to Microsoft's command bunker in Redmond, Washington state, he was deposited on the new acquisitions conveyor belt. Round and round the Microsoft campus he went. All 26 buildings. At every stop, Bhatia's guide helpfully pointed out the vastness of the Microsoft empire. The procession ground on until it reached Gates's office. Bhatia was ushered in. Bill liked his firm. He hoped they could work together.

He wished him well. Bhatia was ushered out. "Next thing is we're taken into a conference room where there are 12 Microsoft negotiators,"Bhatia recalls. "Very intimidating." Microsoft's determined dozen put an offer on the table: $160 million. Take it or leave it. Bhatia played it cool. "I'll get back to you," he said. Eighteen months later Sabeer Bhatia has taken his place among San Francisco's ultra-rich. He recently purchased a $2-million apartment in rarified Pacific Heights.

A month after Bhatia walked away from the table, Microsoft ponied up $400 million for his start-up. Today Hotmail, the ubiquitous Web-based e-mail service, boasts 50 million subscribers - one quarter of all Internet users. Bhatia is worth $200 million. He is already working on his follow-up: a "one-click" e-commerce venture called Arzoo! And Bhatia is looking homeward with an ambitious plan to wire India.

Bhatia was born and raised in the southern Indian city of Bangalore. His father, who held a high post at the Ministry of Defence, and mother Daman, a senior official at a state bank, placed great value on education. In 1988, Bhatia won a full scholarship to the California Institute of Technology, in Pasadena. When his plane touched down that fall, 19-year-old Bhatia had $250 in his wallet and butterflies in his stomach. "I felt I had made a big mistake," he says. "I knew nobody, people looked different, it was hard for them to understand my accent and me to understand theirs.

I felt pretty lonely." Ten years later you can still catch a glimpse of the innocent abroad. People say when Bhatia enters a room he owns it. "I call him the Hindu Robot," says Naveen Singha, Bhatia's friend, mentor and proud owner of the third-ever Hotmail address. "He is persistent, focused, disciplined. He's a superior human being." Others say he glows with a beatific, otherworldly air.

Doing his masters of science at Stanford, Bhatia attended lectures by such legends as Steve Jobs of Apple and Scott McNealy and Vinod Khosla of Sun Microsystems. Listening to them speak, Bhatia "realised they were human. And if they could do it, I could do it too." After Stanford, Bhatia found work as a hardware engineer at Apple. In his cubicle, he read about young men starting up for peanuts and selling out for millions.

Bhatia pondered what the Net could do for him, and what he could do for the Net. Then he had an idea. It was called Javasoft - a way of using the Web to create a>personal database where surfers could keep schedules, to-do lists, family photos and so on. Bhatia showed the plan to Jack Smith, an Apple colleague and they got started. One evening Smith called Bhatia with an intriguing notion. Why not add e-mail to Javasoft? It was a small leap with revolutionary consequences: access to e-mail from any computer, anywhere on the planet. This was that rare thing, an idea so simple, so obvious, it was hard to believe no one had thought of it before. Bhatia saw the potential and panicked that someone would steal the idea. He sat up all night writing the business plan.

Hotmail made perfect sense: it included the letters "html" - mthe programming language used to write Web pages. A brand name was born. Bhatia had $6,000 to his name. It was time to find investors. By the time he reached the offices of venture capitalists Draper Fisher Jurvetson, 19 doors had slammed behind him. Steve Jurvetson and his colleagues quickly saw the potential and put up $300,000. Bhatia and Smith stretched the money all the way to launch day, July 4, 1996.

By year-end they were greeting their millionth customer. When Microsoft came knocking, 12 months later, they'd signed up nearly 10 million users. At $350 million, Hotmail's investors agreed: Sell. Bhatia returned to the table, alone, and once more said: "No." The contract was inked on Dec. 30, 1997, Bhatia's 29th birthday. The price: some three million Microsoft shares - worth $400 million at the time and twice that now. Today Hotmail users are signing up at the rate of 250,000 a day, and the firm is valued at some $6 billion.

Yet it is here that Bhatia launched Hotmail and it is here that he hopes once again to transform the Internet with Arzoo! - his latest brainchild. The company is only six weeks old, and the offices are strewn with boxes that once housed computers, monitors - and a ping pong table.

1 comment:

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