Dollars, cents and an entrepreneurial streak

Jake Goh, final year NUS Economics student, together with final year NUS Computer Science students Davis Gay and Lim Jing Rong, have created RateX, a web plug-in that helps online shoppers pay less by managing the hassle of dealing with foreign currencies and exchange rates. Launched in December 2016, the start-up is gradually gaining ground among shoppers.

Jake credits the NUS Overseas Colleges (NOC) programme for important lessons that proved to be valuable when he and his army buddies Davis and Jing Rong built RateX.

In 2015, Jake went to New York City under the NOC, where he interned with PlayDate, a pet technology start-up. PlayDate makes smart remote-controlled balls with a pet camera, enabling a user to play with his dog or cat from anywhere with just their mobile phones.

As part of a three-man team, Jake’s one-year stint with PlayDate was momentous, giving him a rare opportunity to work on all aspects related to the building of a start-up, from engineering and product development to funding and marketing. Jake helped launch the product, and treasured the chance he had to work directly with and learn from a dynamic founder.

It’s hard to be an entrepreneur. I spend every waking moment thinking about my start-up. I want to succeed but even if everything checks out, I still have to be prepared for uncertainties.

Jake’s biggest takeaway from his time at PlayDate was its focus on growth and product development. He observed how PlayDate released an introductory product, learnt from customer feedback and quickly iterated with a better product.

Jake implemented this lesson upon his return when he started-up RateX with Davis and Jing Rong, both of whom also went on their respective NOC stints. As a cross-border payment solution, RateX lets online shoppers pay in their local currency, which is cheaper than paying in foreign currency.

In the beginning, RateX’s solution was available only on one website, Amazon, and one currency, the US dollar. When it launched, the team faced teething problems that prevented some payment transactions from being completed. RateX engineers worked night and day to de-bug its tool. Jake even went to a customer’s home to fix a problem. The bugs were resolved in a week.

After the initial hurdle, RateX is now working successfully. With a stable offering, the team is preparing for growth. RateX now works on shopping sites like Lazada and Forever 21, with plans for another 23 websites. The team is also working on another currency, either the Chinese Renminbi or the Japanese Yen.

To date, the start-up has raised close to $500,000 from NUS Enterprise, SPRING Singapore and angel investors. The funds will be used for product development and business expansion.

The experience in building RateX from scratch has been a whirlwind adventure for the trio. Jake reflected, “It’s hard to be an entrepreneur. I spend every waking moment thinking about my start-up. I want to succeed but even if everything checks out, I still have to be prepared for uncertainties.”


Davis and Jake sharing about RateX at The Hangar's recent first anniversary celebration (Photo: NUS Enterprise)

Entrepreneurship is not new to Jake. Growing up, he had always been business-minded. Watching his dad as a money changer, forex and arbitrage have become familiar concepts to a young Jake. When he was 11, he bought and sold collectible trading cards at a profit so he could raise his own funds for a Sony Playstation that he coveted. Within weeks, he had saved enough to buy one, which then cost about US$200. Before he joined NUS, he also helped out in a friend’s family business of growing vertical gardens, travelling to Thailand and Malaysia to study the markets and launch the business.

In fact, it was the opportunity to intern overseas with an Internet start-up that attracted Jake to join NUS. He always had his sights set on becoming an entrepreneur and knew that the NOC was right for him.

Jake shared how the NOC strengthened his entrepreneurship skills and sharpened his focus on business growth. He was also quick to add that NOC is not only for students who aspire to be entrepreneurs.

“There’s nothing to lose, everything to gain and you learn to be independent,” he reasoned. “You get a chance to work in another country and study in a well-known institution. You learn from people that you ordinarily would never have met in life.”

By Grace Chng, a veteran tech writer who has been covering innovation and entrepreneurship since the first dotcom era in the 1990s