Sabeer Bhatia is best known for not creating Hotmail, but for selling it at a whopping USD 400 Million. The overnight fame and unimaginable wealth that Sabeer Bhatia acquired must have opened up a slew of venture options for him. A few years after hotmail deal, Mr Bhatia started (‘desire’ in Hindi), a travel portal, and not the first of its kind. Now, equipped with better funds, credibility and a more potent PR tool, Arzoo was the next big potential ecommerce site.  Arzoo collapsed. The tenacious Mr Bhatia re-launched the site in 2006.

Since 2006, I haven’t kept much track of the development of the portal, but my personal brand recall value of Arzoo for booking tickets has been non-existent. What makes me talk about Arzoo is that I unexpectedly stumbled upon a banner ad of on Times of India in the morning. It was surprising at first.

Sabeer Bhatia’s Arzoo might have had advantage about half a dozen years ago with Arzoo, but now the space is highly competitive, though there is still some room for smaller players to get a better market share. Arzoo has many components that are unfavourable. First, according to Alexa, it ranks a poor 8808 in Indian site rankings; even a relatively lesser-known Travelguru ranks 1090. Market leaders Make My Trip and Yatra rank 69 and 129, respectively (they are touted to climb up this year).

Second, compared to the two market leaders, Arzoo’s user interface is astonishingly average. I would have expected a Sabeer-Bhatia funded company to do better. Even the creative design/layout is uninviting. The logo is reminiscent of a travel agency cornered somewhere in congested Daryaganj. In fact, nothing on the site makes it look like a product that has been heralded by the once blue-eyed boy of Silocon Valley.

In all earnestness, I would like Arzoo to do better (because I admire young Indian entrepreneurs), but with this approach, I can’t help being cynical.

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