Hotmail founder Sabeer Bhatia to back a million startups through "Dolphin Tank"

The investment show, which will be created as a revamped version of his company Showreel, plans on cutting Rs 2-5 lakh cheques for idea-stage startups.

Hotmail founder Sabeer Bhatia to back a million startups through "Dolphin Tank"

Tuesday March 07, 2023,

3 min Read

Sabeer Bhatia, the founder of Hotmail, has a new plan for his short-video platform that's undergoing a revamp: back a million idea-stage startups in India with a show somewhat similar to Shark Tank.

Bhatia, who sold Hotmail to Microsoft for $500 million in 1997, started ShowReel in 2020.

The platform allowed users to create short videos to connect with multiple opportunities, such as job seekers with potential employers, founders with venture capitalists, and even brides and grooms.

But due to low user traction Showreel is being revamped to focus on an investment show in the works.

Currently, Showreel employs about a dozen people in India and five at its US headquarters.

"All the pitches on the platform will be used to review the right kind of companies for a television show we are creating. The show will not be like Shark Tank. But think of it as a Dolphin Tank," Bhatia told YourStory in an interaction.

The popular American investment show Shark Tank was adapted and premiered in India in December 2021, helping take the concept of venture investing and the startup ecosystem to even a regular Joe beyond the top cities.

While the first season of Shark Tank India saw cheque sizes going as high as Rs 1 crore, the second season this year is seeing a number of deals breaching that benchmark.

As for Bhatia, he's speaking with several wealth funds to create a fund to back idea-stage startups participating in Showreel's investment show.

The cheque sizes would be between Rs 2 lakh and Rs 5 lakh, and the show will provide participating entrepreneurs mentorship in team-building and finding product market fit, among other things.

"We haven't decided on the name yet. But we are in negotiations with a few TV networks," said Bhatia.

The show could also be hosted on a streaming platform as it is targetted towards the "youth", and digital platforms cater to a relatively younger population.

A proponent of unique ideas, Bhatia said, "If it is been done, if it is a copy-cat (idea), then that's not going to work for us. But let's say if we can find the Uber of the world or the next Google of the world, those are the ideas we want to fund."

Bhatia hopes the show would push young entrepreneurs to think outside of the box.

He finds many startups in India to be run-of-the-mill ideas, but considers Zerodha to be an original startup.

"The reason to start a company is to solve a problem, and having a platform which would let people trade is very innovative," he said.

[This article has been updated to include additional context.]