On 1 June, Kiwi entrepreneur Jake Millar launched his barely one-year-old company, Unfiltered, in the States, having raised $1.2 million through esteemed investors such as Diane Foreman of NZ Natural ice cream fame, former Air New Zealand CEO Rob Fyfe, and Kevin Roberts, ex-chairman of Saatchi & Saatchi. “It’s early days, but we’re making good progress in terms of our expansion,” the 21-year-old tells me over the phone from the US. “It’s certainly more crowded over here, and there are far more players producing similar content. We must build relationships in the market so that we can secure the interviews we want. We have to show what makes us different.”
Unfiltered, which currently has around 150,000 users, aims to educate the influencers of tomorrow through compelling video interviews with legendary executives and entrepreneurs such as Sir Richard Branson and Telsa co-founder, Ian wright. “We’re trying to bring together a library of advice from the most successful people in the world to help the next generation of business leaders,” says Jake. “It’s a great resource for people to truly learn from the best, to hear how they did it. Our members may not be in the same room, but they can watch and study some of history’s greatest entrepreneurs, executives and investors.”
One of the main things Jake has taken from conducting the interviews is the concept of persistence. “Most of them have failed many times,” he says, “But they ploughed on though. They are determined. They don’t take ‘no’ for an answer. Most of them are also very nice people and are there for the right reasons. These are all key to any kind of success.”
Astonishingly, Unfiltered isn’t even Jake’s first business venture. He sold his previous start-up, Oompher — a similar motivational platform with contributions from the likes of Steve Hansen, Rhys Darby and Karen Walker — to the government when he was just 19. But how did a teenager manage to secure such high-profile bookings?
“When I was at Christchurch Boys’ High School, I ran a speakers programme inviting guests like Helen Clark and John Key to talk to the students. I built a relationship with those people and so by the time I launched Oompher in 2015, I could go back to them.”
Jake had already met John Key a few years earlier, under tragic circumstances. In 2010, Jake’s father, Rod Millar, was killed alongside eight others when a skydiving plane went down near Fox Glacier. Key visited the crash site and Jake wrote him a letter expressing his gratitude. The teenager received a hand-written reply from the then prime minister, asking to meet, also noting, with some prescience, that Jake was a “brave young man” who “will go far”.
“The prime minister came to my house for lunch, we had whitebait sandwiches and a good chat,” recalls the entrepreneur. “It was a defining moment in my life from which I took much inspiration because he lost his father when he was seven, but still went on to achieve such amazing things. I remember thinking that if he could do it, then so could I. We formed a pretty good relationship over the years, he has been a massive support for which I am very grateful.”
“It’s important that we focus on ourselves and not on what others are doing. We must stay true to ourselves.”
Such was Jake’s self-belief — and bravery — that he went on to turn down a $40,000 scholarship to read law at Otago University. “I was surprised and honoured by the offer, but I was still working things out,” Jake says. “There was this little voice in the back of my head imploring me to start a business. Conventional wisdom would probably say I should have gone to university and gone into business afterwards, but I just felt that I wanted to take that risk. I remember thinking that if I was so passionate, then it was the right thing to do. What was the worst that could happen? I could fail then go to university anyway. I just didn’t want to be left wondering.”
I ask if most of those he interviews are university educated, and he says that it’s a fairly mixed bag, while many of the older CEOs of larger companies have letters after their names, changing technologies are making it ever-easier for young people to start out. “In some ways, universities are becoming less relevant,” says Jake. “But of course, it all depends what you want to do — good luck becoming a doctor or a lawyer without a degree! I think schools do a great job of instilling in students the notion that university is the be all and end all, but I don’t believe that’s necessarily true today.”
Jake singles out realtor Mike Pero as an early mentor, who supported him through funding and providing office space, along with Christchurch entrepreneur Geoff Cranko: “None of this would have happened without either of them. As the business progressed, I’ve had further great advice from amazing people like Rob Fyfe and Diane Foreman, and I’m really looking forward to working with them further and learning from their global experience.”
The young leader has learnt plenty about himself too. “It’s important to get comfortable with being uncomfortable,” he says. “So often we get into a bubble and it’s vital that we disrupt that if we want to develop. It’s also important that we focus on ourselves and not on what others are doing. We must stay true to ourselves. The finishing lines throughout life are always moving, so you must learn to enjoy the journey — and the key to that is to do something that arouses passion.”
Words: Jamie Christian Desplaces