IMDb Founder and CEO Col Needham; a real-life adventure tale

IMDb's founder reflects on the 25th anniversary acquisition by Amazon

IMDb Founder and CEO Col Needham a reallife adventure tale 1140x346

IMDb, the world's most popular and authoritative source for information on movies, TV shows, and celebrities, features more than 14 million movies and series for users to explore. However, not one of these titles matches the real-life cinematic experience of IMDb Founder and CEO Col Needham’s own life.

At five years old, Needham was asked by his grandmother to participate in a colouring competition run by the local newspaper.

“I don’t even know if the five-year-old me knew what a colouring competition was but my grandmother handed me some felt-tipped pens and I got busy. In the local newspaper, there was a scene from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and you had to colour in all the characters. The prize was a ticket to see the film. I won the competition and this was my first time in a cinema - I fell in love with film. From that point on all I wanted to do was see more and more films.”

Needham’s passion for film remained undimmed and thanks to the availability of VHS players and computers, Col began creating a database of films that went on to become IMDb. From films, television series, podcasts, video games, and streaming content online – including cast, production crew and personal biographies, plot summaries, trivia, ratings, and fan and critical reviews – IMDb is the Holy Grail for anyone who loves entertainment.

Approached 25 years ago by Amazon, a company that at the time was solely an online bookseller, Col found himself meeting with Jeff Bezos. There, a deal for Amazon to buy IMDb was hatched and eventually signed.

“It was clear to me from my earliest conversations with Jeff that IMDb would be a great fit with Amazon. First, IMDb was built by a vast contributor community so we are naturally customer-obsessed. Second, we began as volunteers who loved entertainment—a handful of film fanatics created what became IMDb with an ownership mindset from the very beginning. These and other aspects of IMDb are incredibly synergistic with Amazon.”

While IMDb was acquired to support Amazon’s entry into online video sales, the results of the Amazon/IMDb relationship have far exceeded this initial vision. Today, IMDb helps hundreds of millions of customers all over the world discover and decide what to watch, advance their professional careers, share their passions, grow their businesses, and so much more. Its unrivaled data—more than 14 million titles, 12 million professionals, and one billion user ratings—helps power Amazon businesses and experiences including Fire TV, Prime Video, X-Ray, and Alexa. Leading companies including TikTok license IMDb data to enrich and manage their proprietary entertainment catalogs, power analysis, and inform strategic decision-making.

“After 25 years at Amazon, every day is genuinely an adventure here. I still run a monthly session for all new IMDb team members and I am always fond of telling them: ‘you have joined us at a very exciting time.’ I truly mean this as we continually benefit from new technologies and new devices which create even more ways to reach customers with better experiences and more content.”

Col Needham was in a fireside chat with Bryan Stroube, Assistant Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship at LBS, at this TELL series talk which took place on 27 April, hosted by the Institute of Entrepreneurship and Private Capital. London Business School students created the TELL Series in 2009 to put the spotlight on entrepreneurship in Europe. Fast forwarding to now, TELL has already provided a forum for inspirational talks by over a 100 of successful entrepreneurs and investors. The TELL Series showcases successful entrepreneurs’ personal stories of building high growth businesses. Successful founders, investors and key figures from the entrepreneurship world share their start-up stories, lessons learned and thoughts on the future. TELL events are highly interactive, engaging and inspiring for all participants, and informal in nature.

Visit TELL Series website for previous talks: