One of the world’s biggest and most influential websites is run by a self-confessed British geek from an anonymous suburban home, it emerged yesterday (Weds).
Colin Needham, 43, is the founder of IMDb.com – the Internet Movie Database – which is the 42nd most popular website in the world and attracts 57 million unique visitors every month.
The business grew out of his obsession with films and was originally started as a hobby back in 1990.
It is now the internet’s most comprehensive source of information on movies, TV and celebrities and has the power to make or break careers.
The website is still run from a detached family house in Stoke Gifford, Bristol, and has a searchable database of over 1.5 million films and programmes.
It has information on over 3.2 million actors and professionals working in the industry.
Colin – known as Col – said: ”I have always done this because I love film. The idea is to point people who like films into the right direction.
”I have always wanted to share my love of films and help people find things they might want to watch themselves.
”My wife and I still live going to the cinema and have this tradition of going to see a film together every Tuesday lunchtime.
”I love the idea of being in the cinema with all these people who haven’t got a clue who I am but half of them have probably decided to go and see the film because they have read about it on my website.”
Col grew up in Manchester and got his first computer in 1979 at the age of 12.
He proudly admits that he was one of the first people in the country to have an email address which dates back to 1985.
”I have always been into technology and film and I can still remember going to see Stars Wars, it had a massive affect on me,” he said.
”When I was a teenager I was writing video games. I used to sell them to computer companies and that kept me in all the things a teenagers needed like clothes and 12-inch singles.”
After studying at Leeds University he moved to Bristol and took a job as a software researcher with Hewlett Packard.
At the same time he had began to compile his own database of film facts which would later evolve into the internet site.
His film obsession peaked in the mid 1990s when he was watching over 1,000 films a year. He would record the credits at the end of a film and then note down every detail.
A chance e-mail encounter in 1989 with a film fan in California prompted Col to publish his own personal database online.
The list was published once a month and fellow fans could log on and download it to their own computers.
The first set of software was published in October 1990 and IMDb was born.
With the emergence of the web the site evolved and became interactive but it was managed by a group of 20 volunteers.
Col said: ”The growth we were getting on the site when we first launched was incredible, we were literally doubling the number of users every month.”
IMDb became a company in 1996 and the 20 volunteers who helped run the site were all given shares. The first time all 20 met up in the same room was the day the papers were signed.
The business was run from the family home that Col shared with wife Karen, a trained teacher and church volunteer, and their twin daughters, who are now teenagers.
But website’s real power came when IMDb began a service for film industry professionals for a fee.
The IMDbpro site has become the industry guide and users pay an extra fee to see exactly what film fans across the world are searching for.
The figures are regarded as industry ‘gold’ and can make or break careers in the notoriously tough industry.
Col – whose favourite director is Alfred Hitchcock and favourite film is Vertigo – added: ”I have been told that when people ring up for an appointment with someone important in Hollywood the personal assistant or secretary checks where they are ranked on IMDb before their call is put through.’.
He sold IMDb to Amazon in 1998 and was made a Vice President of the online retailer.
His day job is still as Chief Executive of IMDb and his role is to oversee future strategy and make sure his creation stays true to its roots.
As one of the world’s most successful internet entrepreneurs, he spends his time attending glittering film premieres.
He said: ”Part of my job is going to film premieres and festivals and the feeling of being on the red carpet with Meg Ryan walking in behind you really is quite strange.
”I took my daughters to the premiere of the new Narnia film in Leicester Square a couple of weeks ago and it was magical. There was snow falling and the stars were all there.
”I get to play cool dad and introduce my daughters to film stars. When we got into the cinema there were two seats in front of us draped in gold.
”Two buglers came on to the stage and then the Queen came in and sat down in front of us, it was quite an amazing moment. It is times like that when you have to pinch yourself.”
The IMDb website is still run from the house in Stoke Gifford but Col and his family have now moved to a larger property in nearby Frampton Cotterrell.
Just love these stories about internet startups and this one is even more refreshing given that the idea started pre-internet as a hobby.
Also, who’s ever heard of this guy? He just gets on with it – not like these celebrity online entrepreneurs you run across all over the web.
Also, it took a long time and dedication, starting out with a desire for something other than money. Online businesses these days all want to become big overnight – there’s a lesson here.