Hotmail Founder Has Lots More in Store

Bhatia is involved in two Internet startups that were sparked by his ideas about online calendars and hotel reviews. He says there are three more on the way.

Celebrated Hotmail founder Sabeer Bhatia recently returned from a global business trip that took him to India, New Zealand, Australia and England, and he is now prepping for the launch of five new startups over the next three months.

"Every single one of them solves a problem I have, and Im guessing theyll solve problems for many others," Bhatia told Its how he came up with browser-based e-mail and hes confident his new ideas could strike a similar chord with users.

The first,, came about after Bhatias handheld ran out of power and he scrambled to find the details of a meeting he had scheduled in India. Forced to wake up his assistant in the middle of the night in California, he wanted to find a simple way to access his entire schedule and contacts via the mobile phone.

He settled upon text messaging as the solution.

"Everyone outside the United States uses text messaging constantly," he said. "Its the easiest and most flexible way of doing this."

Users of the service can upload or sync their contacts, notes and calendars to Telixo and request information via SMS. For instance, sending a text message ".cal 12 13 04" to Telixo will receive a reply with all meetings scheduled for that day.

Bhatia sees no reason for consumers to carry multiple devices when he can "extend the desktop to the mobile phone." Telixo is now in beta in the U.K. and India, and will be launched shortly as a beta service in the U.S. Ultimately he hopes to officially launch the service after signing on mobile carriers to do the heavy lifting, handling the messages and billing, and marketing Telixo as a value-added service.

And Bhatia isnt too concerned with competition from the BlackBerrys and Treo 650s of the world, saying only 10 percent of phones worldwide have PDA-type capability. That leaves his company with a huge market thats largely untapped, he said.

/zimages/4/28571.gifClick here to read a column by eWEEKs Scot Petersen on the decline of PDAs.

Another Bhatia company now in beta is, a travel site that focuses on hotel ratings. The idea sprouted from his personal frustration with travel research.

"I found that in doing hotel research online, all the hotels sounded the same," he said. "You arrive, and the room they give you is really [bad, ] but they call it a suite because it has a kitchen table."

His "vertical, travel navigation engine" scours the Internet for hotel reviews and travel articles from major newspapers and travel magazines, and links to them on Hotseasons. In addition, as a way to "democratize" hotel ratings, the site recruits users to submit their own reviews, and hotels are ranked based on that feedback.

"I wanted to let the Internet vote as a whole," he said. "Id rather read about what other people thought than what hotels think of themselves."

Bhatia didnt launch the site simply to find out the best places for him to stay on his many travels; he was also looking for a way to get into the still-growing online travel market, which Jupiter Research recently sized at $54 billion for 2004.

"Theres a lot of money there," he said.

Though Bhatia was tight-lipped about his other ventures, he expects the last three to launch by March 2005. One of them will address the VOIP (voice over IP) market, he said.

These arent Bhatias first follow-ups to Hotmail, which he sold to Microsoft Corp. for $400 million. His succumbed to the dot-com bust, but as CEO of Navin Communications Inc., hes turned the India-based company into one of the countrys leading voicemail providers. In 2000, he also invested in anti-spam firm IronPort Systems Inc., which recently closed a Series D funding round of $45 million.

"Im having fun with this," he said. "This is a new way of entrepreneurship—doing a bunch of these at one time."

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