Guy Millar's adventures in tech starkly contrast the bruising gig of a Top 14 front-rower
The Biarritz prop with a fascinating second life
Ever since he was a kid, Guy Millar loved taking things apart.
A useful trait in a destructive tighthead, you might presume. But for the Biarritz No 3, it was always a technical fascination of how systems are put together that pushed him towards the software industry. Today, the South Africa-born prop splits his life between hammering Top 14 scrums and being the Chief Technology Officer at two tech businesses, one you might consider a start-up – but one that very much crosses the streams of his two passions.
The 29-year-old is murdering the tiresome cliché of the dull-witted prop through his business dealings. So how did it all start for the lad who emigrated to Australia with his family as a teenager?
“I’d always loved technology and from 16 years old I began taking apart computers and trying to put them back together, messing with Windows and playing around with that while it grew and grew,” Millar says. “Then when I left school, my undergrad at Sydney Uni was in sports science. After, in my post-grad I took up a masters in computer science.
“In Aussie we have a company called Alchemex. We sell and build software. So, the CEO basically created a cash-flow reporting tool that connects to any sort of database that you can read. And we have to Excel the front end, and basically consolidate all sorts of databases and information and meaningful reports. I’ve been involved since 2013 and that’s ongoing and still growing and growing. That’s from Australia and it works in the Asia-Pacific region.
“I do a lot of installations and troubleshooting, things like that. So I learned Windows backwards, and it’s a desktop. We basically then sell software solutions and recently on the back of that we started doing custom development. That’s where my masters in computer science became a bit more useful.
“Then on the other side is a start-up, which I’ve been involved in now for about three years, and I took over as CTO in March last year.”
Before we get onto that, it’s worth noting again that this is a starting tighthead for a Top 14 side. Just two weeks into the Top 14 season, Millar has worn the No 3 jersey in both Biarritz outings, home and away, once in a win against Bordeaux-Begles and the second in a loss against rivals Perpignan. Before he arrived in the ProD2 with BO in 2018, he had come through the Western Force, Southland and the Otago Highlanders. Peers reference him as being a vital part of the Biarritz machine.
Related: A love letter to the crazy ProD2
And yet rugby is not all-consuming. He talks of feeling lucky that his two careers feel like hobbies. Both must fire him up, you wonder, as he goes on to explain that as a man who has never slept much in his life anyway, and as someone who craves regiment, he usually logs on at 4am for meetings with his Australian colleagues. He is then answering emails and putting in the time between training sessions before settling into more work in the evenings.
As he adds: “It’s a tough slog now but if you balance it… I just skipped going to cafés and going for coffees. When I say skip, I mean that I get to pick and choose. You can’t just do it all the time, but also I don’t switch on a PlayStation. I don’t do any of those things. I am very lucky that rugby is what I enjoy, and to work outside that isn’t work. It’s something I love. I enjoy doing it, I find it relaxing, because I’m solving problems.”
Which takes us to tech business number two: the start-up PlayWize, where he became CTO in March. This is where both interests align.
He explains: “My rugby journey took me from Sydney to the Western Force into the Highlanders, while playing ITM Cup. Then it was over to France, and you know the struggle of being off contract, trying to find one. Once you find the contract in a different country, there’s obviously the difficulty of getting passports, getting visas, moving house or finding a house, all that sort of stuff.
“When in the contracting process there are a thousand emails going backwards and forwards, backwards and forwards.
“What we’ve done is digitise that entire process. PlayWize’s head office is based in Vancouver, in Canada, and what we’ve done is build a marketplace. At the moment we’ve got athletes on the one side, who create their profiles, they are accredited by us and can show their playing history, upload videos, upload documents and references, statistics which may be verified and that we’re pulling from different places, and also their socials.
“Then on the other side, we’ve got professional teams, academies, universities, (amateur) teams and now brands, which we’ve just added.
“So next season for example, Biarritz can post an opportunity saying that they they’re looking for a tighthead prop, with a set of criteria: so playing history, experience, age, different features, highest level played, that sort of thing. It returns in the database anyone who’s going to be off contract at that date.
“Athletes can apply for those positions and the team can sit and look at that, when they go through their recruitment meeting, and shuffle and shortlist the athletes, decline athletes or accept athletes, whatever it may or may not be.”
They are also now working with contracted or uncontracted endorsement work. However, the big thing is streamlining processes that, in some corners of the rugby world for some time, have not always delivered what was initially promised. Millar gives the example of a bonus for playing ten games in a season – no longer should anyone have to chase that up, but it’s there in the agreement and when the number is hit the player is automatically paid, the club is debited, it’s stored on a blockchain and everyone knows where they stand.
Everything verified; everything automatic. The long-term vision is for a system that can be trusted to handle the finances and each athlete has their own digital wallet.
When asked about why this isn’t standard in 2021, and how there is still potentially handshake deals going on in less-professional leagues or outfits, Millar says: “I think it’s ludicrous that (some are) still doing it that way but that’s what we are trying to fix, in the amount of deals where no one reply to an email or someone’s got against ‘this’. And that’s the contracts, while with handshake deals I mean, if someone loses out because they (a club) say ‘no, we didn’t shake hands’, it’s just crazy.
“But we look at it from two sides as well. Look at the amount of untapped talent across the world. Why should you have to have an agent who wants to put you forward to be able to get somewhere? If you want to grow the game of rugby, you need to tap into all the resources we have to get to that spot.
“Another side of this is like when I went from New Zealand. I looked at France and Japan. They were both asking me the same questions about, say, my medical history and my medical records. I just think there should be an easier way of digitising this process, where I can just give that club permission to access my records for, okay three months, you know? To have access to my medical records which are stored against my account on my blockchain – on our blockchain – and you know that they (the club) are verified.
“Everything we do should be able to be verified and tracked and no one can be dodgy around it. You already see it happening in US sports. Things are changing already and people are starting to move into this age of that buzzword, blockchain, but we’re not there yet in rugby. It’s significant changes and we’ll always push back for change, but it’s happening slowly.”
When it eventually comes to hanging up the boots, Millar hopes to continue combining his passions of tech and sport. Making things easier in a digital age for athletes to secure employment and enshrine what they are owed feels like a righteous way to do that. But there’s plenty more rugby to play first.
Millar operates in a world of monster packs and fine sporting margins. He is grateful for the education some seasons in the ProD2 offered, with more of a free-for-all at set-piece time compared to Super Rugby and the Top 14. He learnt more from those messy exchanges, he says, than he had for some time and it should hopefully pay dividends in the “cleaner” Top 14.
Whatever this season brings though, one thing is for sure: You’ll have to get up early to keep pace with Millar.
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