Colin House was having lunch with a sports nut the day he got the idea.
"He was really into sports," remembers House, "the kind of guy who could rattle off all the statistics. He was complaining about how hard it is to track his favorite players and know what they are really like."
House is a 21st Century entrepreneur, a child of the Internet, and that chance lunchtime conversation got him thinking about the possibility of turning the fantasy of "knowing what they are really like" into reality.
About this time Michael Jackson died. Out of curiosity, House went to the Internet to see what was being said about the King of Pop.
"I looked up every Michael Jackson site I could find," he says. "It was all opinion, no real stories. That was the tipping point for me. I realized there are millions of fan sites out there, but they're either paparazzi-driven, which means they're sensational, or they're blogs, which means they are basically opinion.
"There's nothing with stories from people who really met the people they're writing about."
In late October, House launched his new Web site, iFollo.com: "The only interactive celebrity site that bases all its content on real encounters with celebrities from real people."
IFollo is where the world can go to NOT get gossip.
The Web site is a virtual water cooler where stories begin with openers along the lines of "I met Zac (Efron) at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Tokyo," and "On a flight out of Las Vegas, who sits down next to me but half of the Donny & Marie show." Next to the text is a photo of Donny Osmond sitting in an airline seat.
The authors of these true-life tales are anyone and everyone who has a brush with celebrity, planned or unplanned, accidental or on purpose.
There is no coercion involved getting these stories and certainly no pay, but "people want to tell their stories; they want to be heard," says House. He says he's already received hundreds of stories about celebrity encounters after having his Web site up and running for just over a month.
When the "viral component" of the World Wide Web kicks in, he expects to receive thousands of unsolicited reports on an ongoing basis.
There is no charge to enter the site. Income will come from selling ads and by syndicating iFollo content to news organizations interested in including the celebrity encounters on the air.
Whether House's idea will "go viral" as planned remains to be seen. But it probably wouldn't be wise to bet against a man who has gone off the beaten path and succeeded more than once in his life.
House first came to America from South Africa in 1989 with barely a dime in his pocket.
He was 20 years old, stood 6-foot-8, and he and a friend wanted to see if they could play volleyball for a U.S. college.
They lived in a car their first three months in the land of the free, cruising the California college scene from Stanford to San Diego.
While in L.A. they bumped into a recruiter from Brigham Young University. The next thing they knew they were living in Provo, playing volleyball for legendary coach Carl McGown the first year the Cougar program joined the NCAA.
"I've been living the American dream ever since," says House, who has made — and lost — a small fortune dabbling in the Net, worked 10 years for Hewlett-Packard and now lives in Park City with his wife and three daughters.
He recently sold a company, which gave him the luxury of "noodling" on his latest start-up brainstorm.
"I think it's the future of entertainment reporting," he says of his iFollo concept. "It's not about what a celebrity had for lunch or who's sleeping with who. It's about what they're really like."
Lee Benson's column runs Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Please send e-mail to [email protected]