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Immigrant Profile: Sabeer Bhatia

Background

Sabeer Bhatia was born in Chandigarh, India, on December 30, 1968, and raised in Bangalore. His father, Baldev, was an officer in the Indian army and later became part of the Indian Ministry of Defense. His mother, Daman, was a senior official at the Central Bank of India.

After completing his high school education at the St. Joseph’s Boys High School in Bangalore, he enrolled in the Birla Institute of Technology & Science in Pilani for his undergraduate degree in 1985. After two years at BITS, he transferred to the California Institute of Technology (Caltech).

Immigration to the United States

After graduating from Caltech with his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering in 1989, Bhatia attended Stanford University, where he obtained his master’s degree in electrical engineering. At Stanford, Bhatia studied ultra-low power VLSI design, which involves combining millions of transistors into a single microchip. Instead of going on to obtain his doctorate, he took a job at Apple, citing the inspiration of Steve Jobs.

Professional Background & Achievements

Sabeer Bhatia began work as a hardware engineer at Apple, but soon moved to begin working for a startup company, Firepower Systems, Inc. He enlisted the help of a friend and former colleague from Apple, Jack Smith. While researching the potential of web-based databases, they developed what would be known as Hotmail, based on the letters HTML, the language used to write web pages. As one of the first web-based email services, Hotmail was a free alternative to  ISP-based email programs requiring paid subscriptions.

Contributions to the U.S. Economy

Funded by an investment of $300,000 from the venture capital firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson, Hotmail was launched on July 4, 1996. Bhatia and Smith chose the date, Independence Day in the United States, to symbolize users’ freedom to access their email from anywhere in the world without having to be tied to their home computers. To attract as many new customers as possible, Hotmail provided email service for free while the company earned its income from advertisements on the website. Within a few months, Hotmail had over a million customers and had attracted the interest of Microsoft. By December 1997, when Hotmail had 8.5 million users, Microsoft purchased it for $400 million in Microsoft shares. Bhatia worked for Microsoft as manager of its Hotmail division for about a year after the purchase, but in the two decades since then has been involved in a variety of startups, including, starting in 2018, a project to reduce labor requirements on Indian farms by detecting optimal times to water fields without requiring farmers to travel over vast expanses of land themselves. Over the longer term, he is working to link agricultural production to the Internet of Things so as to increase world agricultural output by 70% by the year 2050.

Microsoft folded Bhatia’s most famous creation, Hotmail, into Outlook.com in 2012.

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