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And then of course, the interesting thing was that when we finally did launch, each of us had pagers that would send us a page every hour, so we would know how quickly our user base was growing. It was just phenomenal 100 people signed up last hour, 200 people this hour. Everyone knew how many users were signing on and that was very motivating to the whole company.
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Livingston: Was there ever a time when you thought you were in trouble Bhatia: The only time was when we had to go in for the second round of financ-
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ing. We didn t have any money and Tim was at the Olympics in Atlanta and he refused to fund us because we wanted a slightly higher valuation. This was what all the other VCs were telling us, but he wanted to invest at a lower valuation. We had only a couple of weeks worth of money left and I would not have been able to meet the next payroll. So as soon as he came back, we literally had to accept his terms and move on.
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Livingston: Couldn t you have argued legally that by not agreeing to a higher
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Bhatia: At that point you are stuck; you ve got to make a decision one way or
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Livingston: So really the biggest challenge in the early years of Hotmail was the
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Bhatia: Yeah, it was the funding. And of course then the tough part was in scal-
ing up to that growth. Our servers would break down and we had to worry about scalability problems and how to add servers and make it more reliable. It was not all smooth sailing.
Livingston: Did you ever go out of service Bhatia: We went out of service for a few hours sometimes and we didn t have
proper backups, or the ability to restore things. Reliability was an issue and it took us some time to cross the reliability curve.
Livingston: Was there ever a time when you felt you couldn t keep up Bhatia: We just handled the problems as they came around: we put in a new
system, rearchitected some of the things. The engineers worked really hard, and we kind of made it work. But even now there are times when you log into Hotmail and it says, Sorry, the server is down. These are just issues when you have a very large user base.
Livingston: Web-based email was so new to the world. What did consumers
misunderstand
Bhatia: We had a sales guy who signed up his mom, and his mom said, Yes, I
can see that there s an email from you, but how do I read it And he said, Mom, go and click on it. She didn t know you had to click on it! I heard another story from a man who said his sister would get into the Hotmail account not directly by going to http://hotmail.com, but by going to Yahoo, typing in the word hotmail, and then it would bring up the Hotmail page and then she d log in. And he d say, Why do you do it that way and the
Sabeer Bhatia 25
sister would say, My friend taught me this is how you get to Hotmail, so that s what I ve been doing. The usage patterns of how people used the Internet were baffling to us.
Livingston: Who were you most nervous about from a competitive standpoint Bhatia: Anybody in the Internet space. We were most nervous about compa-
nies like Netscape, because Netscape was building email servers and they would provide web-based access to the servers. Their whole point was that they provided web-based management to servers that you could set up. So, as system administrators, you could check to see how many had people signed up or whatever, but they were not offering web-based mail to people. The good news was that a lot of people said, I m not sure email is a browser-based product. Email is best done on an email client like Outlook Express. It doesn t belong in the browser. That s what Jerry Yang said at Yahoo. We were like, Great! So we had no competition from them for the first 8 months or so, till we reached a certain point and then they had no choice but to buy a company. I heard that Yahoo gave up the opportunity to buy Google for $1,000,000 that at one point, Google would have been happy to be sold to them for a million bucks.
Livingston: Yahoo ultimately wound up buying Rocketmail. They were your first real competitor, right Tell me about them. Bhatia: They were our partners. We needed to have a directory of users that
people could search and send email to. Instead of building our own directory, we partnered with Rocketmail. We said, OK, we ll use your directory on our website and we ll send you our registration data so you could register these people s email accounts. We didn t want to build a directory just for people to search for email. All they had was a directory, that s what they specialized in, that was their business. They found out how many registrations we were sending them daily they saw our growth from hundreds to thousands to tens of thousands, and that s when they said, Even we ourselves cannot get these kinds of registrations on our website. We should do email. So they decided to do email and that s how they came up with Rocketmail.
Livingston: Were you pissed Bhatia: They are also funded by Draper Fisher Jurvetson. So Draper was see-
ing two of its own companies create two different email systems. We felt bad that they had done it, but we couldn t go to Draper and say anything. It was a decision that the company took, that s what DFJ told us, and we were pissed at them, but at that time we knew we had to not share too much information with DFJ as well.
Livingston: So you didn t have a showdown with Rocketmail Bhatia: We just scrapped our partnership and decided, OK, competition is
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