Unfiltered founder dies in Kenya: ‘I’d never met anyone like Jake Millar’

Jake Millar, founder of startup businesses Unfiltered and Oompher, has died in Kenya, aged 26.

Both businesses were created while Millar was still a teenager.

Oompher was an online showcase of motivational videos featuring advice from prominent New Zealanders, it was setup while Millar was still at Christchurch Boys’ High School, and later sold to the Ministry of Education.

Millar’s most high-profile venture, Unfiltered, followed the same principle, but extended it to live events and eventually to an international market. He famously turned down a full $40,000 scholarship to University so he could pursue it.

Unfiltered received investments and support from high-profile businesspeople, and other community leaders and at one point was reportedly valued at $12 million.

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But Millar sold Unfiltered to Crimson Education earlier this year for $120,000 in cash and shares, in a deal that is understood to have upset investors.

Millar’s move to Kenya was said to have been inspired by Stephen Jennings, whose firm Rendeavour is building cities in sub-Saharan Africa.

“Jake was an entrepreneur’s entrepreneur. He was also a caring and considerate person with a wide network of friends and supporters,” Jennings said in a statement.

“An interview or discussion with Jake was filled with unbridled enthusiasm and, more often than not, ended with Jake boarding a plane in pursuit of a new venture in a new geography,

“At a very young age, Jake successfully arrived on the international business stage and put himself in places that could be exciting and lonely in equal measure.”

Crimson Education chief executive and co-founder Jamie Beaton said he still remembered his first meeting with Millar, a virtual one via Skype, in 2013.

“His searing ambitions – to be prime minister, to build transformative companies, to explore life to its fullest – radiated.

“I remember leaving the call feeling totally wowed. New Zealand too often suffocates ambition in its young people, but Jake burned bright. I had never met anyone in New Zealand like Jake Millar.”

A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade released a brief statement about Millar’s death on Monday morning.

“The ministry is aware of the tragic death of Jake Millar and is providing consular assistance to his family.”

Meet the young man who sold his business to the government as a teenager

Beaton praised Millar’s ability to knock on the doors of some of the most successful people on the planet, including Virgin founder and billionaire, Richard Branson.

“I bet on Jake and I would keep betting on Jake because with Jake the question is never ‘if’ but ‘when’.”

Former National Party leader Don Brash was interviewed by Millar as part of the Unfiltered project and has been in regular contact with Millar over the years. He said he was shocked at the news of his death.

“He had visited New Zealand early this year, and I’d seen him several times then … but clearly things went wrong.”

Brash spoke with Millar via Zoom when the entrepreneur was in Cape Town last month.

“He was obviously someone who had lots of initiative, lots of get-up and go.”

Millar met Brash as a Year 12 student, shortly after the Christchurch earthquakes, when he started approaching leaders in their industries to talk to students at Christchurch Boys’ High School.

Millar managed to secure interviews with high-profile international figures like Richard Branson as part of Unfiltered.

Millar managed to secure interviews with high-profile international figures like Richard Branson as part of Unfiltered.

“That to my mind struck me as pretty remarkable for a guy who probably would have been 15 or 16 at the time, to approach a number of reasonably high-profile citizens and, not surprisingly, next year he became head boy.”

Newshub reporter Mitch McCann was a friend of Millar’s, and met him when he came back to New Zealand in July.

They went to high school together, and were in the same boarding house. McCann tagged along to help with Oompher after Millar launched it.

He said Millar’s defining characteristic was his tenacity, which was on full display when they turned up at former All Black coach Steve Hansen’s house for an interview.

“We went around to Steve’s house and I didn’t realise that Steve had actually told Jake that he couldn’t do it that day … Jake either ignored the email, or hadn’t seen it, and we just turned up to the front door and we got the interview anyway.”

Tributes flowed on Monday, including from Michelle Dickinson, who said she hoped that his death prompted people to think about the pressure being placed on young entrepreneurs, and what support was needed.

“Whether it’s tall poppy syndrome or just an increase in ‘opinions’ on social media from people who never even met Jake, the way we talk about people on our social platforms matters.Let’s not forget to be kind.”

In 2018, Millar was named one of Forbes magazine’s North America 30 under 30 to watch in the area of education. He served on global advisory boards and was also a brand ambassador for BMW.

Millar also experienced tragedy in his personal life early on when his father died in a skydiving plane crash on Fox Glacier.

A 15-year-old Millar wrote to John Key asking for advice with his personal life after his father’s death.

Later, Millar also heavily criticised Transport Accident Investigation Commission’s investigation into the incident.

McCann said Millar kept a tight circle of close friends.

The main thing he remembers is how much Millar cared about what was happening in everybody else’s lives, even if those lives were far removed from his own.

“When I would talk to him, I would get a genuine feeling that he did care,” McCann said.

“If I had talked about something in my personal life that was much less exciting than flying around the world or doing whatever he was doing, he genuinely did care.”

Where to get help

  • 1737, Need to talk? Free call or text 1737 to talk to a trained counsellor.

  • Anxiety New Zealand 0800 ANXIETY (0800 269 4389)

  • Depression.org.nz 0800 111 757 or text 4202

  • Lifeline 0800 543 354

  • Mental Health Foundation 09 623 4812, click here to access its free resource and information service.

  • Rural Support Trust 0800 787 254

  • Samaritans 0800 726 666

  • Suicide Crisis Helpline 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)

  • Yellow Brick Road 0800 732 825

  • thelowdown.co.nz Web chat, email chat or free text 5626

  • What’s Up 0800 942 8787 (for 5 to 18-year-olds). Phone counselling available Monday-Friday, noon-11pm and weekends, 3pm-11pm. Online chat is available 3pm-10pm daily.

  • Youthline 0800 376 633, free text 234, email [email protected], or find online chat and other support options here.

  • If it is an emergency, click here to find the number for your local crisis assessment team.

  • In a life-threatening situation, call 111.

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