Sabeer Bhatia did his early education at Bishop Cotton's School in Pune, then St Joseph's College in Bangalore. After that, he joined the Birla Institute of Technology (BITS) at Pilani where he won a transfer scholarship to Cal Tech. He was the only applicant in the entire world (usually about 150 try it) in 1988 to get a passing score on the tough Cal Tech Transfer Exam.
Initially Sabeer was planning to complete his BSc and return home. But he went on to do his master's degree in electrical engineering from Stanford University after which he joined Apple Computers as a systems integrator. He was however inspired by the exploits of his fellow students at Stanford like Jerry Yang and David Filo, creators of Yahoo! "The entrepreneurial wave started in the 90s and I was swept into it as well," he recounts.
The first idea that Sabeer had was that of a web based personal database system that could be accessible for anywhere in the world. He shared his idea with his friend and co-worker Jack Smith, and they both felt that the idea worth pursuing. Most of the time Sabeer and Jack would exchange their ideas via e-mail but a firewall system installed at Apple put an end to that. It was the frustration of passing ideas over floppy and chits of paper that led to the birth of Hotmail. Says Sabeer, "It was then that the idea of a web based email system struck us."
Sabeer started taking his business plan to numerous venture capitalists (VC). "We were scared of people stealing our ideas," says Sabeer. Selling the idea too was not an easy task. In fact, as many as 19 VCs turned him down. "'Many of them said we were too young, had very little experience, no management experience at all, and had hardware backgrounds. But we never gave up," reminisces Sabeer.
Then came the meeting with Steve Jurvetson of Draper Fisher Jurvetson. Sabeer got $300,000 to make a prototype of the system. It was not a great deal of money and utilizing it to the maximum was a challenge for the Hotmail team. Out of the initial staff of 15, only three got full time salaries and the rest ware paid in stock options. Said Sabeer while talking about his employees "People take a risk with you but they too get the reward," The gamble eventually paid off.
"The power of the Internet is such that a good idea spreads like wild fire," remarked Sabeer. This was true in the case of Hotmail. It was launched on July 4, 1996. By mid 1998, the company was signing up new users at the rate of 1.25 lakh a day! In just over two years, Sabeer had built Hotmail's user base faster than any media company in history. "Today hotmail has over 150 million subscribers. This is out of a total of 2300 to 350 million users of the Internet," said a very pleased Sabeer on the current status of hotmail.
How hotmail came to be a part of Microsoft is also an interesting story. Initially Hotmail provided its Services to users of the Microsoft network (MSN). However, the prospects of a merger began to be tossed around when it began to emerge that both the firms had similar plans for expansion and growth. Sabeer and two of his colleagues were invited to the Microsoft office at Seattle where he met Bill Gates for the first time. After the initial meet were a series of negotiations. The initial offer made by Microsoft was a cool 160 million dollars. Sabeer made a counter offer of 700 million dollars! This was not a wild figure. "I wanted to make a billion dollar company and we kept on negotiating for three months," said Sabeer. Eventually the final sum agreed to was 400 million dollars and Sabeer became the poster boy of young entrepreneurs throughout the world.
Under the deal with Microsoft, Sabeer could have continued as president of Hotmail, for a period of three years. Most people would have stopped at that. But not Sabeer. He quit before the stipulated time and started arzoo.com a website dedicated to e-commerce. However things didn't turn out quite the way he wanted it to and arzoo shut shop. But Sabeer remains enthusiastic as ever about the prospects of the Internet and is keeping his future plans a closely guarded secret. Who knows what new hot ideas we can expect from this hot male?