Tributes pour in after Unfiltered founder Jake Millar dies aged 26

Entrepreneur Jake Millar has died, aged 26.

The Herald understands Millar was in Kenya at the time of his death on Sunday (New Zealand time).

Millar had a storied business history and had moved to Africa earlier this year to restart his career.

The death of Millar adds to the family tragedy, which also includes the death of Millar’s father in a skydiving plane crash in Fox Glacier, which killed nine people in 2010.

Millar is best known as the founder of media business Unfiltered in 2015.

Unfiltered featured a series of interviews with high-profile business people and acquired around $4.6 million in funding from numerous high-profile investors who saw potential in the young entrepreneur.

Over the course of running Unfiltered, Millar rubbed shoulders with some of the most famous business owners in the world.

The business was sold to Jamie Beaton’s Crimson Education in early 2021 for a figure understood to have been around $82,000 in February this year. Investors expressed some frustration at the sale of the business.

Before this, while still at school, he founded a similar business called Oompher, which was sold to the New Zealand Government for a six-figure sum.

His early success and promising future saw him become one of the most familiar faces in New Zealand’s entrepreneurial circles.

In an interview earlier this year, Millar told the Herald that he was moving to Sub-Saharan Africa to pursue opportunities in the developing economy.

It’s unclear what work he had been doing in Kenya at the time of his death.

Today, tributes have started pouring in from those who had crossed paths with Millar over the years.

Sir John Key told the Herald that it broke his heart to have heard the news about Millar.

“From the first time I met him I knew he was someone special. He had a mixture of courage, warmness, intellect and a maturity and strength to deal with adversity, which is never easy for a young person. I respected him and I will miss him.”

Former New Zealand politician Don Brash had similarly kind words about Millar, recalling how the young entrepreneur had arranged for a number of high profile New Zealanders to talk at Christchurch Boys’ High School after the Christchurch Earthquakes.

“He showed such an initiative from such a young age,” Brash told the Herald. “For someone in year 12 to do that at a time when many of his colleagues were feeling quite depressed is remarkable.”

Brash remained in contact with Millar over the years and had spoken to him as recently as a month ago.

Brash spoke to Millar’s mother last night and says that she is still trying to process the news.

Another prominent New Zealander to have formed a close relationship Millar over the years was Mike Pero, who first met Millar around a decade ago.

Pero recalls that Millar approached him, asked him for a job and told him that he wanted to learn from him.

Pero allowed Millar to work at one of his offices in Christchurch and established a strong relationship with him over the course of his tenure with Pero’s real estate firm.

“My mum used to cook him dinners in the evening,” Pero recalls.

Herald business editorial director Fran O’Sullivan reflected on the years she had known Millar.

“Jake’s raw talent and brio marked him as someone I was happy to go out of my way
to assist in getting a splash for Unfiltered on the Herald website when he was a mere 20-year-old,” she says.

“At his 21st birthday at Seafarers in Auckland, he was brimming with excitement over his plans to take Unfiltered to a much bigger market in the US.

“Jake had his critics. But not so among the big names he interviewed in his career: Virgin’s Sir Richard Branson,GeneralStan McChrystal and Bravo co-founder Orlando Bravo to name just three from the 300 plus interviews he carried out.

“I will miss his infectious enthusiasm. But more the exciting chapters I would have wanted ahead for him. I am saddened this will not now happen.”

More Tributes

Tributes have continued to come in after the initial publication of this story.

Crimson Education founder Jamie Beaton reflected on the “searing ambition” he saw when he first spoke to Millar via Skype in 2013.

“I remember leaving the call feeling totally wowed,” Beaton told the Herald.

“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. Jake had an ability to connect with people that was mesmerising. He understood what drove people and could inspire them, drive them and unite them. Sharndre and I were walking a distinctive road and in Jake, we had a dear friend going along a similar journey. He was warm, he was empathetic, he was playful, he was loving.”

Beaton would cross paths would Millar again earlier this year with the pair striking a deal over the sale of the Unfiltered business.

“Jake is the kind of person who could do anything he wanted to if he set his mind to it.

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

Partners Life managing director Naomi Ballantyne also got in contact with the Herald to share her thoughts on the death of Millar.

“Jake was a young man whom I would have been proud to have as my son,” she said.

“He had a kindness and a genuine interest in people that belied his youth, and it was that genuineness and curiosity that facilitated his unique ability to get busy, successful people to become his interview subjects and his platform speakers.”

Ballantyne was interviewed by Millar five years ago – and the experience stuck with her.

“Jake seemed to have an old soul which was matched equally with enormous youthful energy and excitement about the world,” she said.

“Like for all entrepreneurs, business success is never linear, nor guaranteed, but unlike most of us, Jake’s journey was laid out publicly for all to comment on and judge. He should only be judged for being such an extraordinary light in the NZ business landscape.”

Perpetual Guardian founder Andrew Barnes spoke about the need to support entrepreneurs in the aftermath of Millar’s death.

“Jake’s death is a tragedy and a devastating loss,” he said.

He also called on the need to reflect on the business culture in New Zealand and suggested that we should be more willing to accept the “inevitability of failure on the road to success”.

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