That is what this piece will be. It deserves to be.
I pleaded with those leading the pile-on of Jake Millar during February of 2021 to back off.
Without giving away the confidence that Jake had invested in telling me where he was at emotionally (a dark place with no way out), I tried in the background to get the media storm to desist. I had shared my own personal journey with Todd Scott at NBR a few years back (who was now leading the media pressure on Jake) and personally asked him, in fact implored him to back off and let him breathe for a moment. “I’m asking you — and you know me well enough that I don’t do this lightly — to back off and give him a moment to breathe”. I asked him to find some empathy, not the story. I wanted him to think about the human involved here.
Unfortunately, he not only ignored me, he started investigating me and my husband, signalling that it was clearly “game on”. Retaliation was swift, Jake received “a very scary email saying that he is going to leak my investor emails in the NBR, because of what I shared with you”. He begged me to not continue trying to intervene, in his words “Todd is just too unpredictable and dangerous and should absolutely be avoided at all costs”. He was scared. “Let the universe sort it out”. Those were his last words to me.
At the time I was nursing a friend in her last days in hospice. So I backed off.
I woke to the news this morning that Jake Millar had died of suicide in Kenya over the weekend. Mutual friends who knew I would care, broke it to me in the same way that I had to break it to others — with a truth bomb that hit every nerve on the way through me. There is no way to soften that blow. I was unsurprised, instantly saddened and now numb. But boiling with absolute anger. I am livid and getting angrier by the hour.
Everyone should feel a little bit of anger when a young person takes their own life, it is demonstrative of so much not panning out the way anyone had hoped it should and when things break unexpectedly, we react, we lash out, we don’t know how to process the largest possible emotions.
Over the years I have had many people in my world take their own lives, I was only 13 when it first happened. And each time the “but why” rhetoric begins immediately, those closest to the fall-out are left reeling, trying to work out what they could have said or done differently. The what-if scenarios keep loved ones awake through torturous and endless nights, playing out on a constant feedback loop.
But in this instance, with Jake, the “why” is perfectly laid out in front of us. It’s google-able. The insight lays bare right in front of us. The media and commentators went after him when his business failed, with such spectacular delight. They hounded him, harassed him, threatened him, sent him bullying messages. I have seen them with my own eyes, he shared them with me. He was desperate for help, to make it stop and they would not. It is not difficult to assemble the “why” here, we can easily surmise and understand the inputs and the outcomes. It was entirely avoidable. Many people offered up warnings about this potential outcome. We begged them to see that they were playing a dangerous game with a fragile kid. And yet, it still happened.
I have spent the morning pouring over the details of what happened back in early 2021 and unfortunately it’s not helping ease the anger I am feeling. Whilst it is generally not considered a good idea to publish when the emotions are running so high, there are moments in life when the unfiltered view provides the best observation. It is the heightened anger that enables me to stand up and say things out loud that maybe in more rational moments I would filter. That filtering is what leads us to these events in the first place. The people who didn’t speak up to help out a kid, who was being bullied beyond reasonable response to an otherwise pretty ordinary and quite vanilla flavoured business failure. But because he wasn’t as they wanted him to be, not doing it as they expected him to, or handling it as they required, they pursued and pursued.
They cloaked him in shame. He wore it and didn’t know how to take it off.
Looking back on the words used to describe Jake at the time, they were sensationalised to make him feel and seem like a villain, a swindler. Quotes lifted out of the The Detail podcast aired on Radio NZ back in February were incredulous of his business actions, that he “pursued people” was “charming” he “chased after” and “millions were poured into” only for him to “disappear and so has all the money”. This is not even remotely the truth. There was not an ounce of criminal activity. He did not run off with the money as they made it saliciously sound. The crime that was being committed that day was by two journalists defaming a 26 year old kid. They even admitted their motivation, “he deigns to interview business people…that was our day job”. Upon relistening to that podcast today, I couldn’t help but notice that it smacked of professional jealousy. That he didn’t do his hard yards as a journalist like they did, and so by failing, as they appeared to hope he would and then did, he proved their point. Now they could stick the knife in, showcasing relentlessly how fool hardy this all was and how smug they now are. No right of reply on display to the listener, a fair “other side”, just a callous character assassination littered with hot takes.
The media were fuelled though by the tech industry, with certain commentators, such as Ben Kepes, who were obsessed with his style and choice of branded clothing. They made out that he was using company funds to acquire these, he was not. I even checked with the investors I knew. He was paid a normal start-up CEO salary, and he spent his money how he chose, — there was no inappropriate spending of company money. The debate about the validity of the business model and its success or demise was a private one, really for no one other than the high profile investors to decide on its worthiness, as a high risk investment. The people actually involved in it were all very capable of asking hard questions and in the right platform — not in a public spectacle about footwear choices and weird analogies.
The escalation into a media storm had all the necessary ingredients to brew it; a youthful personality with plenty of X factor and a penchant for being flamboyant, high flying investors, well known interviewees, and of course, the internet and it’s impact on traditional media. It had drama and panache. Everyone had an opinion, and every opinion carried another kilogram of shame being heaped onto Jake, their reckless hot takes were becoming heavier than any of them spent any time considering at all. The shame should have been on them.
What it does demonstrate now, in the cold stark reality of the aftermath we now find ourselves in, where on one side we have those who were cruel and now wish to either take back what they said, or double down on it (as sadly we have seen happen these last few hours), and the other where those like myself who were party to the ramifications by way of conversing with Jake, that this needs to be the moment in time that real change happens.
We should not revere or create commentators out of people who are not capable of nurturing and learning. We should develop better role modelling and leadership that will encourage people to take risks, to be themselves — be it “a little dandy” (as stated by the NBR of Jake). It is the essence of an entrepreneur to be outside of the norm, to dare to dream of another alternative pathway, we are creative by nature. Embrace it, support it.
The reality is those pathways do not always pan out, but we have to provide a safer exit for failure, than the total demise of an individual. I speak from the sad reality of experience, I have been in Jake’s shoes. I have found myself in that corner, so bleak, so backed into it, that the world of my own making is crumbling around me and with no obvious way out. The only difference between him and I, is that I have 17 years of experience on him. I was able to work my way through it and out of it I could take the cloak back off eventually. I was able to unshame myself, and stand tall again. He wasn’t. He struggled, he broke. He couldn’t and didn’t get back up.
I reflected on the cloak of shame analogy this morning and I wondered what it was about the loss of pride that was that much harder for him. I wondered how much of it was attached to losing his dad at a young age, at wanting desperately to make him proud. That these investors, all inspiring individuals, showed father-figure like pride in Jake by getting behind him. And then when it didn’t pan out, that pride was seemingly taken away. Let that sink in for a moment. Imagine how that made him feel? And in that moment, just when he was already at a very low point, the commentators and the media came along with their pitch forks for no ordinary pile on, but a sustained, continued and vicious attack that didn’t let up and cut to the core of his personality too.
Jake deserves to be remembered for the flip side of all of this. For the gumption to get started, the bravery to dare attempt something differently, for backing himself, being seen and heard as himself. Funnily enough, I never met Jake in the flesh, I only ever spoke with him on the phone and over emails. Our world’s only collided as he knew I had struggled and so I became a beacon for him through that. I am so happy that my pain could help him, but so sad that it wasn’t enough. When will it be enough?
Now, in this very moment, I speak up about the truth of what happened — at the risk of a severe kick back — because he deserved so much better than what he got and because I hope his mum knows that a bunch of us are really proud of him. His legacy should be the Unfiltered view of how failure can be a beautiful beacon of hope, as it should be. Let’s make giving it a go something to celebrate. RIP Jake, I am so sorry I backed off. I wish I had kept going then. I will now.