Sabeer Bhatia, cofounder of Hotmail, in 2000. (Savita Kirloskar / Reuters )
News that Microsoft planned to sunset the Hotmail brand wasn't the biggest of shocks. As the company has been quietly nudging users to switch to Outlook.com, the writing was on the wall.
When the company made it official Monday, though, I found it to be a notable milestone. For those of us writing about the Web, and the early days of the dot-com boom, back in the mid-90s, the story of Hotmail was one of those moments that helped establish the mythology of that era.
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Some guys, Sabeer Bhatia and Jack Smith, raised $300,000 to start a Web mail service in 1996. Two years later, they sell it to Microsoft for $400 million. $400 million! Suddenly, the Internet seemed like not just a revolutionary technology, but also a potential lottery ticket for anyone who had just the right idea.
In the ensuing years, the Hotmail name lost some of its luster. Even so, Microsoft said the decision to retire the brand wasn't an easy one. After all, it still has 300 million users.
Still, it left me wondering how Bhatia felt about it.
I managed to track Bhatia down while he was traveling in New York this week. And it turns out the entrepreneur is totally at peace with the decision.
"It's much needed," Bhatia said. "What with all the speed and features of Gmail, it's about time they did something like this."
Bhatia left Microsoft not long after the acquisition, and said he was no longer in contact with the company or people working on Hotmail.
He did say he was glad users would be able to keep their @hotmail.com addresses. Indeed, he still uses his original one as his main email. But he also switched over to the new Outlook interface several months ago, and said it was a huge improvement.
Besides, he said, in tech, there's no room to be sentimental, or cling to something out of nostalgia.
"You have to keep upgrading," Bhatia said. "This is innovation. It's inevitable. I'm very pleased with the way things are going."
Bhatia has also moved on. He's currently running his latest start-up, Jaxtr, which makes a SIM card for unlocked mobile phones so they can be used in any country without incurring huge bills for text, voice and data usage.
The company just officially launched the product a few weeks ago, though Bhatia said it's taken five years, and about $60 million (much of it his own money) to get this far. The company is based in Mountain View and has 100 employees.
Like any good entrepreneur, he's convinced that his current company is going to be his biggest success yet.
"We're getting tremendous response from overseas travelers," Bhatia said. "Our market is 1 billion people."
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