Hotmail founder Sabeer Bhatia readies his next hot venture

Vinay Kamath Swetha Kannan Chennai | Updated on December 20, 2012

Sabeer Bhatia

An affordable calling card for overseas travellers

Sabeer Bhatia laughs heartily. He’s heard that cliché often enough. Of being the ‘hot male’ behind Hotmail. Always asked what’s next, Bhatia believes Jaxtr will be his hottest calling card.

This prepaid SIM card, he expects, will be the answer to travellers’ woes on high phone charges.

“Travellers start feeling the pain the minute they land in a new country. Even billionaires don’t want to pay Rs 200 per call on roaming charges. And it is not easy to find a local SIM card that is not exorbitant. At 15 cents a minute for local calls and calls to your home country anywhere in the world, Jaxtr will be over 60 per cent cheaper than most other calling cards,” says Bhatia, who now sports a Telly Savalas- like bald pate.

While players like Matrix are resellers of SIMs, Jaxtr is actually a carrier. “Except for the last mile, where we will tie up with local operators, we own the rest of the network, including the switches,” says Bhatia, in Chennai to launch a new facility.

Costing $20, the Jaxtr SIM comes with 60 minutes of free talk time and four numbers. It will initially work in four countries — US, UK, Canada and Mexico. By 2013, Bhatia promises the card can be used in over 30 countries. Once a traveller lands in a country, he gets an SMS with his number which will be his permanent one.

The card will be sold in the US, India and online soon. Eventually, it will be available across the world.

Jaxtr started as a free SMS service before Bhatia realised it wasn’t making enough money. So Bhatia decided to tweak the model. It took five years and “tens of millions of dollars” to design the new avatar of Jaxtr. Jaxtr is just one of Bhatia’s several ideas. Immediately after quitting Microsoft (where he worked for a year after selling Hotmail for $400 million in 1998), Bhatia started Arzoo in 2001. But it was the year of the dotcom bust and it shut shop. Bhatia, 43, spent a year playing golf and travelling around the world, heading for retirement at just 30.

But one cannot keep an ideas man down for long. In 2008, Bhatia, Silicon Valley’s poster boy, was back with Sabse Bolo. “It is the largest voice conferencing service in India today,” he says. Arzoo too was back in a new avatar and Bhatia promises to push this travel portal. When ready, it will offer the Jaxtr SIM on it.

Sabse bolo, Arzoo, Jaxtr and AMP Technologies now (a business intelligence tool for real estate developers), Bhatia has his plate full. But he isn’t complaining. “These ideas keep me alive. Besides, I have a team of capable managers and CEOs who report to me every week.” Jaxtr is the one venture where Bhatia is hands-on.

But none of his ventures have started showing returns, but he’s looking at the big picture. “It took Facebook and Google six years to make money. I believe my divisions will break out next year.”

Grooming entrepreneurs

However, Bhatia’s biggest idea is this: Create a massive incubator for entrepreneurs. One that would nurture, pitch and fund ideas. Bhatia has already invested in three small companies in Bangalore and he is hungry to feed more.

“Services companies have underutilised the potential of Indians for back-end work. That has not resulted in creative ideas. Why did Facebook not happen in India, it could have. But there is no system to encourage people,” says Bhatia, admitting that he probably could not have founded Hotmail if he had worked in India.

Published on December 20, 2012

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