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Unfiltered’s Jake Millar on US expansion, creating content people care about, and partying with Sir Richard Branson

Idealog digital editor Ben Mack chats with Unfiltered’s Jake Millar, who talks about raising $1.2m to expand into the US, some exciting new additions to the board of directors, and partying with Sir Richard Branson.

Anyone in Aotearoa’s business or tech space has probably come across Unfiltered. After all, it’s one of New Zealand’s fastest-growing startups, despite only being founded by Jake Millar (who’s just 21 years old) and fellow school friend Yuuki Ogino in November 2015. Its paid subscription website has successfully attracted 150,000 individual and corporate users, and an enviable list of sponsors that includes PwC, Bell Gully, NZTE and the University of Auckland Business School. Featuring more than 110 long-form interviews with entrepreneurs and business leaders, and aggregating 1.8 million video views, the website focuses exclusively on business education. It’s built a reputation for securing interviews with business masterminds, following what Millar describes as a “high-trust, strong-relationships model.” Normally media-shy interviewees, including Stephen Jennings, Cliff Cook and the late Sir Douglas Myers, feature alongside Sir Richard Branson and former Prime Minister John Key.

In sum: Unfiltered is doing some pretty big things. And it’s in the process of doing even bigger things.

Party party party @richardbranson #hero

A post shared by Jake Millar (@_jakemillar) on

Millar has also announced Unfiltered has secured a suite of A-list investors – including Rob Fyfe, Kevin Roberts, Emerald Group CEO Diane Foreman, investor Adrian Burr, 90 Seconds founder Tim Norton and investor Justin Wyborn – to help fund expansion to the United States. How much was raised? Just a cool $1.2 million.

That has Millar feeling fairly confident. “Going into this capital raising process, I was always confident that we would raise the desired funds, however, I have been blown away by the calibre of investors we have attracted. I am really proud to have each and every one of these investors on board, and the team and I are humbled by their support and confidence.”

Millar says the seed capital will be primarily used to grow the startup’s leadership team, and fuel B2C (business-to-consumer) growth in the United States through digital marketing. Funds will also be invested into new technology, with Unfiltered unveiling a new world-class $300,000 digital platform next month.

Roberts says that Unfiltered is a “company that can really go places.”

And that’s not all he has to say. “It’s a great idea, with early traction and with limitless international potential. The world’s mobile and desktop screens are hungry for content; content which is compelling, uplifting, fascinating, quick and optimistic. Unfiltered is in a great position to deliver just that.”

Fyfe says he “invests in people not businesses. I have known Jake since he was 16 and he is one of the most inspiring young New Zealanders I have met in my business career.”

Diane Foreman also says she’s glad to invest. I invested in Unfiltered because Jake is one of the most authentic people I have met,” she explains. “He is genuinely a lovely person who cares deeply not just about issues but about people. As Eleanor Roosevelt said, ‘great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.’ I invested in Unfiltered because it's all about ideas.”

Millar says the support means a lot to him and his enterprise. “More and more people are wanting to do something great with their lives, and have a desire to make a difference,” he says. “But they lack the tools and know-how to create a valuable business. People are wanting more: the latest research says that 40 percent of Kiwis are unhappy with their job. The current education system does very little to support entrepreneurship, failing to provide the next generation with the tools they need to achieve their business dreams.”

While still at Christchurch Boys’ High School, where he was Head Boy, Millar turned down a $40,000 scholarship to study law at the University of Otago and went on to start OOMPHER, a careers startup, after being inspired by Sir Richard Branson’s autobiography. OOMPHER was sold to Government Crown Entity Careers NZ when Millar was just 19 years old, making him the first teenager to ever sell a business to the New Zealand Government.

And the seven-figure investment isn’t the only major development at Unfiltered. Globally experienced CEOs Fyfe and Roberts are also joining Unfiltered’s board of directors on May 1, with Roberts becoming chair.

Fyfe, of Icebreaker fame, says he’s excited to be involved with Unfiltered’s journey. “All the boards I have chosen to join are companies with strong New Zealand roots that embrace the Kiwi spirit and sense of adventure and I believe have the potential to be global leaders in their category,” he says. “Unfiltered is in its infancy – but the online business education space is massive and Jake’s innovative approach to the category has the potential to unlock a massive opportunity. I’m thrilled to contribute and to help Jake realise his ambition.”

Roberts, the former New York-based executive chair and CEO of global advertising firm Saatchi & Saatchi, is also stoked. “I’ve come into Unfiltered because I believe it’s unstoppable,” he says. “The big idea is that we can disrupt every business education programme the world has ever seen. The opportunities in front of us are enormous globally.”

Needless to say, Millar is also rather excited to have Fyfe and Roberts on board. “I have a huge amount of respect for these two business legends, and believe their skillsets are exactly what Unfiltered needs from a governance perspective to help it grow into a truly global business,” he says.

Millar first met Fyfe in 2012, when as a Year 12 student he invited him to speak at a school assembly. “Rob has become a mentor, friend and someone I have immense respect for,” says Millar. “Rob is one of the greatest people leaders on the planet, and it is going to be an honour to work alongside him as we realise our global vision.”

Kevin Roberts (left) and Jake Millar.

Millar has also known Roberts for a bit. “Kevin Roberts was one of the very first people I interviewed for Unfiltered. From the moment he walked through the door, I was blown away by his big-picture thinking, enormous energy, incredible passion and commitment to building world-changing companies. Kevin is one of the world’s greatest marketing brains and business educators. What we can achieve together is limitless.”

If Unfiltered’s track record in the short time it’s been around is anything to go by, he may have a point.