Mumbai: Sabeer Bhatia is still known for Hotmail—15 years after he created the product and 13 years after he sold it to Microsoft Corp. for $400 million.
Since then, India’s favourite Internet poster boy has tried to replicate the success of Hotmail, first with Arzoo.com and later with a host of online telecom-related products and cloud offerings.
Some people—think Steve Jobs of Apple Inc.; or Marc Andreessen of Netscape fame who now backs the Rockmelt browser; or Rajesh Jain who sold IndiaWorld for Rs499 crore in 1999 and now runs Netcore Solutions Pvt. Ltd, a messaging, security solutions and mobile data services player; or Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft, and founder and chairman of Vulcan Inc., which manages his business and philanthropic efforts—become successful serial entrepreneurs. Others, like Bhatia (at least until now), remain one-hit wonders. But Bhatia, now 42, hasn’t given up. On Tuesday, he launched JaxtrSMS, a mobile application, fully developed in India by engineers in Ahmedabad and Mumbai, and one that Bhatia hopes will do to SMS what Hotmail did to email.
Mail to mobiles: Bhatia is hoping JaxtrSMS will replicate Hotmail success. Photo: Hemant Mishra/Mint
Watch a video
Sabeer Bhatia talks about his latest venture, what he thinks is the future of mobile applications and how he stays ahead of the competition.
“JaxtrSMS is available as a free download on the iPhone, BlackBerry and Nokia phones besides other phones based on the Android and Java platforms. It lets users send unlimited free text messages to any other phone anywhere in the world,” said Bhatia, chief executive officer and co-founder of Jaxtr Inc. “The application is an example of Indian innovation for not just the Indian but global market though we conceived the idea in the US. We chose to launch it in India since it’s the second largest cellular market in the world.”
The application can be downloaded from fJaxtr’s site or the app store of the handset maker.
“Texting is a $200 billion market worldwide. So far, I’m the only investor but we are close to signing up some Silicon Valley investors too,” said Bhatia, who started work on JaxtrSMS in 2010.
His company takes the data messages composed over the data channel, and once the messages are on its servers, “we determine whether the recipients are on our network on not. If they’re on our network, we simply send the message over our data channel to the recipient’s phone. If not, we send it over the regular texting network, and individuals do not have to pay for the SMS,” he said.
To reply to texts, users will have to download JaxtrSMS. The application isn’t the first one in the space; WhatsApp Messenger, co-founded in 2009 by Jan Koum and Brian Acton who earlier worked with Yahoo Inc. for 20 years, is a similar cross-platform mobile messenger, which replaces SMSes and works through the existing Internet data plan of the device.
Bhatia said the business model of JaxtrSMS revolves around “contextual advertising” since advertising within an SMS needs to be relevant. He also plans to launch some premium services. “While the basic SMS will be free, we will charge for images, videos, online storage of video files, archiving SMS(es) and searching them.” Users will be charged around Rs50 a month for such services, he added.
After Hotmail, Bhatia worked with Microsoft for a year till he was bitten by the dotcom bug and started Arzoo—an online database of experts to answer questions. He had to shut that down in 2001.
He took a couple of years off and relaunched it as a travel portal in 2003. Not much has been heard of it since.
In 2007, Bhatia started Sabse Technologies and released Sabsebolo–a free voice-conferencing product. Along with Yogesh Patel, president and co-founder of Jaxtr, he also developed a number of products including a voice-telephony solution in the cloud, and a billing engine also for the cloud.
In the same year, Bhatia also announced the launch of a hybrid online-offline Office suite of applications called Live Documents through InstaColl, a company he promoted. The application competes with well-established cloud offerings such as Google Docs and Microsoft’s Office 365.
“LiveDocuments is still going strong. We are extending the platform to the iPad,” said Bhatia, who isn’t fazed by the fact that anything he does will be compared with the success he achieved with Hotmail, which, as Windows Live, is still going strong with 370 million users.
“Silicon Valley is built on failures. One of 10 projects succeed but the one that succeeds makes up for the nine failures,” he said. “It’s easy to criticize.”
“I don’t know if this (JaxtrSMS) will succeed. We feel it will but even if it does not, it certainly will not be for lack of trying. We are excited about it, and the initial data—around 10,000 users a day—promises growth.”