Hotmail man remains internet believer

Hotmail co-founder Sabeer Bhatia reputedly has the kind of popular following in his country of birth, India, which film stars endure.

Hotmail co-founder Sabeer Bhatia reputedly has the kind of popular following in his country of birth, India, which film stars endure. During a visit to Auckland last week for the NZCS-organised SEARCC conference, he was relishing his anonymity.

“What are some New Zealand software companies?” asked Bhatia, who today makes a living from investing his Hotmail millions.

Internet entrepreneurship was his subject at the South East Asian Regional Computer Confederation event. Having sold Hotmail to Microsoft for $US400 million 18 months after its 1996 launch, he has ample cash to spread around.

“The internet let loose creative juices,” says Bhatia, whose “sweet spot” for backing creative endeavours is “somewhere around the sub-million-dollar mark”.

He’s had one stumble, attempting to set up a web-based IT support organisation, Arzoo, which failed to attract enough customers. But he’s involved in two other start-ups, neither of which could have been dreamed of before the internet. One is called IronPort Systems, a year-old Californian company, and the other is Cradle Technologies.

IronPort has developed AsyncOS, which it claims can send and receive email about 10-times faster than any existing software. One of those involved in the company is a former Hotmail executive.

“The only relationship IronPort bears to Hotmail is it enhances existing email,” says Bhatia, describing it as aimed at organisations struggling to cope with millions of mail messages a day.

The other company in which he demonstrates his belief in internet-based business is Cradle Technologies, which is attempting to develop a software-based method of microprocessor design. The internet comes in as a means of harnessing the efforts of designers anywhere in the world, much as Arzoo was intended to work.

“The challenge with the internet is monetarising the value,” he says. If that means turning Cradle Technologies, for example, into a commercial reality then selling it to the highest bidder, he’s already proved, with Hotmail, that he’s not averse to that.

“Why not? Anything goes these days, although everyone has become much more conservative.”

That applies to him as well. Any New Zealander hoping to attract some of his funds needs more than just a great idea.

“Anything that’s proven and is generating revenue would catch my eye,” Bhatia says.

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