Bangalore: Sabeer Bhatia, co-founder of one of the Internet’s first free webmail service, Hotmail, is betting on online software that offers features and functionality similar to Microsoft Corp.’s Office suite.
An entrepreneur who a decade ago sold Hotmail to Microsoft for $400 million or Rs1,572 crore at today’s currency prices, Bhatia’s ‘Live Documents’ branded business is part of 30 such ventures he’s backing.
Live Documents aims to offer functionality equivalent to Microsoft’s commonly used Word, Excel and PowerPoint software. It is available as an optional desktop client application and is free for individual customers, similar to a offering from Google Inc.—Google Documents.
The Live Documents desktop client also ensures offline access to documents. The cost of the application for business users such as companies is $5 per month per user, Bhatia told Mint in a telephonic interview.
So far, the other businesses of Bhatia, who came to fame with the sale of Hotmail to Microsoft and earned the ‘hotmale’ nickname, have not been as successful as the webmail service.
“I am not trying to shake off any image, but trying to add to the list of my ventures,” Bhatia said. “This (Live Documents) will transform into a bigger success than Hotmail.com and will have a much larger mass appeal.”
The 39-year-old Bhatia is now a serial-entrepreneur or one who invests in several companies.
One of his early investments was in Arzoo.com, where his vision was to make it the world’s largest human network of intellectual capital. But Arzoo, the Hindi name for desire, failed after the dot-com bubble burst and the Bangalore-born Bhatia reinvented Arzoo as a travel portal in 2006.
“I am not sure of the rationale to convert Arzoo into a travel portal. He (Bhatia) seems to be a follower of the trend to grab a share of the fast-paced growth in the online tickets business. Again, only time will tell if it will be success,” said T.S. Mohan Krishnan, senior vice-president and country manager, eTechnology Group of IMRB, a market research company.
Bhatia shrugged off such criticism, though. “It takes time to be successful. Success is not instant, it takes years,” he said.
Bhatia has co-founded six start-ups in India including ApnaCircle.com, a social networking site or a local version of Linkedin; InstaColl, the software product company behind Live Documents; Navin Communications, a provider of value-added technologies and services to telephony and content service providers; and a provider of Internet telephony solutions, VoiFi Technology Corp. He is also involved in Myrefcheck.com, a portal that will enable reference check of job candidates online.
Failure of start-ups is common in California’s Silicon Valley where 90% of start-ups have perished, according to Bhatia. In India, however, the failure rate is lower due to two main reasons: individuals do not take enough risks and because many start-ups remain in the gestation period for long. “It’s still early days for product companies in India. Wait and watch, there will be blood on the walls in the next three years,” said Ashish Gupta, founding managing partner, Helion.
Although Bhatia is focusing on segments such as fast-growing Internet services, there has been little to differentiate his products from others. “He needs to be involved more hands-on with the products to see the innovation through,” said Krishnan of IMRB. “Having said that, Bhatia should continue… (investing in innovative ideas) as sometimes things click and sometimes they don’t.”
Bhatia has undertaken an ambitious project of building Nano city in Chandigarh that will require an investment of Rs1,850 crore.
Next week, VoiFi Technology is launching Sabsebolo.com, a free conference calling solution for the Indian market.