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He's still a hot male

Sabeer Bhatia is a much mellower version now, doing gym and yoga. He's now into another venture he hopes will be revolutionary



Teaching curve Sabeer Bhatia will not head his new venture Instacoll but will be the mentor Photo: SAMPATH KUMAR G.P.

At the time when Hotmail was snapped up by Microsoft, Sabeer Bhatia was the Indian techie having arrived. He took his time on the initial $160 million offer and then closed the deal at a cool $400 million. But time has passed and the Indian icon who lives in the San Francisco Bay area has travelled. Thing is, where's he headed?

Between Hotmail and now, Sabeer seems to have been quiet. "After Hotmail, I was still in the bubble zone of Internet. I was caught up in the dotcom craze. I thought Internet would be influential to play with ideas. That was the premise of Arzoo. But it fell. I lost faith in the Internet, but still was in touch. Then I was looking at wireless. It was last year that Google came up. It showed how traffic on the website could be monetised. And Apple gave us guarantee for value. You could listen to songs legal. The two seminal events revived my faith in Internet and technology's capacity to shape society."

Renewed faith

From that renewed self-belief, Sabeer has come up with five ideas, two of which he does not reveal, as they are in "stealth" mode. Among the three, the first is a search engine in "vertical" travel space: hotseasons.com will aggregate user-driven content in travel space that will have reviews of hotels and locales across the world. The second is turning the cell phone into a virtual entity, a PDA — Personal Digital Assistant that will give you every bit of personal data you have stored online on to your cell phone merely by SMS. Cell turns into PDA when registered on a website, telixo.com. The third is Instacoll — instant and simultaneous collaboration on Microsoft Office. Instacoll has p-to-p technology and permits seamless data flow. "This is infinitely scaleable. How many million connections can a server take?" Sabeer points out. Will he head Instacoll? "Not really. I'll work as mentor, just like my other companies."

The product scene is low isn't it? "Intellectual capital business, India has lots. But products are not capital intensive. We need to create value there. Hopefully, Instacoll will lead the way."

Is it still 18 hours work everyday and weekends full of partying in NY?

"Oh, not that kind of partying anymore. I'm older, wiser now. I don't find it enjoyable. I love the outdoors. Skiing, golfing. I am disciplined. I do yoga and gym regularly."

Still in that flat overlooking the Pacific? "Sure." The same Ferrari? "Yeah."

In touch with Steve Jobs of Apple and your co-founder Jack Smith? "Not really, but they are all there."

What did he want to be? (Work, you realise, is also life for him.) "An entrepreneur. I think I am an eternal entrepreneur even if the dotcom bubble did sap away that spirit. It excites me to create."

You'd want to be a Steve Jobs? "The way Steve took control of Apple and revived it was remarkable. He gave us the I-Pod. Great product value. That's an innovator — a thinker. It is great to be someone like him." Sabeer sees himself as a global citizen trying to get into the "mind-share" of 400 to 500 million users of the Internet — a platform of minds. He finds services "boring". "It brings jobs but sells intellectual capital for piecework. Life is too short. You can do so many things."

Hotmail's getting cramped? "It is losing out on international clientele yes, but because of low storage. But it is competitive in the U.S." g-mail, he says, is a superior search mode, has better storage and security.

Philosophical

A bit philosophical after Hotmail Sabeer? "Well, you reflect on things and find out what satisfies you best. People have to find their own natural levels. To me working with companies from scratch, building teams and making products is challenging. Once the product matures it is continuation engineering."

Wonder why you gave up Hotmail? "It became continuation engineering. Looking back, I think it wasn't revolutionary."

The $400 million, how'd that come about? "I was looking at a billion dollar company. The $400 million at that point gave me that feel."

The negotiation must've been something? "The board room happened, but finally it was over telephone. With Greg Maffei, the CFO. Do read Nudist on The Late Shift by Po Bronson. It has lovely stuff on what went into it."

It's fun for Sabeer at the Bay. "I meet so many people every day and work with so many problems. And I have so many friends."

PRASHANTH G.N.

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