Playing Cupid: Q&A with Violet Lim, CEO and Co-Founder of Lunch Actually

Lunch Actually is the first and largest dating agency in South East Asia with over 12 years of proven track record. Since it launched in Singapore in 2004, Violet and her team expanded to Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Hong Kong Jakarta and Bangkok. 

95,568 dates so far and counting, in 6 cities in South East Asia, indeed love is in the air especially for many working professionals. We talk to master cupid herself, Violet Lim, CEO and Co-Founder of Lunch Actually and President of Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) Singapore, on how her matching making service works…

Our clients comprise single, busy, eligible professionals and executives from various industries. Majority of them is from their late-20s to mid-30s; they are successful professionals who are seriously looking for that special someone but due to their hectic lives-are unable to find them.

Q: Tell us about Lunch Actually. How long you’ve been doing it, and who your clients are?

A: Lunch Actually is the first and biggest Asia’s premier lunch dating company. Launched in Singapore in 2004, we have since expanded to Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Hong Kong, Jakarta and Bangkok. This April, we will celebrate our 13 years in business!

How Lunch Actually works is, first, we will invite every potential client to our office to have a chat with our dating consultant. During this chat, we will find out more about their profile and preferences. After that, should we have suitable candidates for them, we will offer them a membership package. We will also do some ID and background check. Based on their profile and preferences as well as our dating consultant’s assessment, we will proceed to find their first match. Each and every match is handpicked by our well-trained dating consultant. After a match is found, we will contact both parties to share with them the details of the match. Once the match is approved by both parties, we will proceed to arrange the date, book the restaurant, finalize the arrangement. All they need to do is to turn up at the restaurant and enjoy their date. After the date, we will contact both parties again to get their feedback. Based on their feedback, we will fine-tune the dating criteria to find them their next match.

Our clients comprise single, busy, eligible professionals and executives from various industries. Majority of them is from their late-20s to mid-30s; they are successful professionals who are seriously looking for that special someone but due to their hectic lives-are unable to find them. They are 70% Degree holder, and 19% Masters and PhD holder.

Q: What sparked your interest in the science of matchmaking?

A: As a MA (Management Associate) at Citigroup, I get to work in many different departments and met many people. I observed that many of my colleagues were single and not dating. That was rather puzzling for me as they were attractive and eligible people. I soon realised that it is because, they were working really long hours, they were virtually married to the bank. When I came across the concept of lunch dating, I was immediately attracted to the idea because I felt that lunch was ‘short, sweet and simple’ – it is long enough for you to get to know someone, yet it was not too long that it would become awkward. Having always been passionate about helping people, I decided to quit my job at the bank and start a new career as a modern-day matchmaker, where the business is not just about making money, but helping to make a difference in people’s lives by helping them find their life-long happiness.

 When I came across the concept of lunch dating, I was immediately attracted to the idea because I felt that lunch was ‘short, sweet and simple’ – it is long enough for you to get to know someone, yet it was not too long that it would become awkward.

Q: What were you doing before entrepreneurship? Tell us about your background and how it helps you with what you are doing now? 

A: Like most people out there, my childhood dream is NOT to be a matchmaker. Far from it really. Like most Asian children, I was groomed by my parents to study hard, get a good job and go to a good university which was what I did being the obedient daughter. 🙂 I read Law at University of Manchester and subsequently, I did my Masters in Personnel Management at the London School of Economics. However, during my summer attachments at a law firm, I discovered that as much as I love law, it was not my calling.

I then moved on to Citibank as a Management Associate. That’s when I realised that my banker colleagues who were all very eligible, were alone only because they didn’t have time to date. This was what probed me to start Lunch Actually.

Q: Tell us more about your inspiration behind Lunch Actually. What’s the idea behind it and how did you first come up with the idea?

A: I chanced upon the concept of lunch dating while travelling. I could immediately see the potential of this business due to my interactions with my single colleagues. Lunch was ‘short, sweet and simple’ – it is long enough for you to get to know someone, yet it was not too long that it would become awkward. I noticed that my banker friends, no matter how late they work, would make time for lunch. So rather than always eating with people whom you are already know, why not lunch with someone whom you do not know, and who knows, something might come out of it!

I would not have left my job for just any business. However, this business appealed to me because this is not just all about making money; it is about helping people find their lifelong happiness as well. I have always been active in community service work, and I loved the idea of being able to combine my passion of helping others with the prospect of building a business.

And that was how I left my job at the age of 24, and started Lunch Actually with my then boyfriend-now husband Jamie. And like they say, the rest is history. We will be celebrating our 13th years in business in April this year!

Browsing through profiles, swiping and messaging take time that our clients don’t have since they are busy – therefore, we make the whole dating process very easy and convenient for them. In short, we do all the work and all our clients have to do is to show up and enjoy the date.

Q: What makes Lunch Actually different from other matchmaking websites that we know?

A: We are Asia’s first and largest lunch dating company. To-date we have presence in 6 cities, 5 countries and have 110+ full-time associates. We have a well-tested and well-proven matching algorithm that has created many happy unions and our service has a high satisfaction rate among our tens of thousands of clients. Other than just being a platform for singles to meet, we also provide date coaching and image coaching services to help our clients increase their success rate.

With Lunch Actually which is a completely offline service, clients can feel safe and secure because we meet and screen each member in person and verify their identities before we sign them up and send them on dates. We also help in handpicking the most suitable match for each client so you don’t waste a lot of time and effort screening through unsuitable matches like you would in other online dating services. Browsing through profiles, swiping and messaging take time that our clients don’t have since they are busy – therefore, we make the whole dating process very easy and convenient for them. In short, we do all the work and all our clients have to do is to show up and enjoy the date.

Also, another thing that our clients like about Lunch Actually – is that aside from themselves and the consultants, no one else would know that they are our members. Their information, profile and photos won’t be shared anywhere, and this is very important as our clients comprise of professionals and executives and some of them are high-profile CEOs, MDs, Entrepreneurs, etc and would not want to use online dating / dating apps due to privacy issue.

Q: How do you maintain the quality of your matchmaking services?

A: Safety is very important to us, therefore we always meet each and every potential client face-to-face for a consultation. During this session, our dating consultants personally interact and asses each person and be able to suss out singles whom we feel are unsuitable, non-genuine or not serious about wanting a serious relationship.

Another step after that is that, we conduct background checks which include marital status check, income and education verification.

Q: In terms of sales & marketing, how do you reach your clients, and what works?    

A: I think from early on, we’ve had a strong vision about how we want our brand to be. Even though we are in the dating industry, we do not use red color or heart symbol in our logo. We have always aimed for the premium, professional image as our clients are working professionals and we want them to be able to say our brand ‘Lunch Actually’ without the obvious association to it with ‘love’ and ‘relationship’. This has worked for us so far.

Our strongest marketing tool has always been, and is still is: word of mouth. When clients have a good experience with us, when they have successfully found their other half through us, they will spread the words and tell their friends and family, and right now our branding is very strong because we have had such a positive and effective word-of-mouth.

Q: Where do you see the future of modern dating apps? Any plans for Lunch Actually in the near future?

A: The mobile market has definitely grown exponentially. And at the end of the day, whether I like it or not, there will be new trends. I don’t see it as competitions, but as opportunities for us to also evolve and keep innovating. When we first launched esync (our online-offline dating platform), people in our team asked us why? With its lower price point, photos and so on… wouldn’t that be bad for us? Similarly with LunchClick (our dating app), people feel the same way. LunchClick is free. However, at the end of the day, it educates people to outsource their dating life.

Having said that, I don’t think that the need for personal touch will diminish, as there is no “1-size-fits-all” solution for singles. I think there will always be a need for different business models. Everyone is different and each single has different preferences. Some enjoy the convenience of a dating app where they can do everything within the app itself, but some would still prefer a personal service where they can interact with the dating consultant and enjoy the luxury of not having to do anything besides going to the date and meeting your match.

Q: Tell us about your Number 1 business challenge?  

A: Our #1 business challenge is to constantly innovate fast enough to meet the needs of the market we serve – our singles. When we first started 13 years ago, we only had 1 product – lunch dating. And we realised that there’s no 1 perfect product for singles. This service may work great for Single A but may not be the case for Single B. So we have been on the ground and talking to singles and finding out the trends and their needs, and from there we have constantly innovated to stay relevant be it to starting an online matchmaking site, a mobile dating app or even a coaching service for singles. This is how we have been able to stay as the market leader despite ongoing competition.

Q: As an entrepreneur, what motivates you personally?   

A: Having started my own business, there are still days where I am feeling beaten and demoralized. There are moments where I wonder if I should maybe throw in the towel. Hence, I understand, as leaders, be it of a team, a department or an organization, there will be times that one would feel down and out.

When Jamie and I started our business 13 years ago, one of the first things we did was to create our company vision and mission statement. If you think about it, it is quite comical, two people leading a company of… two, sitting down and crafting these ‘lofty’ statements. The reason why we did it was because we wanted to put it down on paper the reasons we started the company in the first place. And when the goings get tough, I remembered always revisiting our vision and mission statement, and that kept me going, knowing that there is a purpose in what I am doing, purpose in what I am creating. If you have not already done it, find out your Why. Why are you doing what you are doing? And let that be your focus.

At the end of the day, it is not realistic to expect leaders to be upbeat, positive and extremely motivated all the time. It is important to acknowledge that there will be “up” days, and there will be “down” days. More importantly, as leaders, we have to limit the down days to the minimum, use those times to reflect and sharpen the saw and come back stronger and better.

Also, I’ve been very blessed in my personal life. I’ve a great marriage, great kids, a thriving business, and I’m making a difference in people’s lives. I also have an amazing team. I think I’m given all these for a reason, which is to help other people out there find the same happiness I found.

As female entrepreneur, we need to use our strengths to our advantage. For example, rather than taking on a more masculine persona to blend in with the guys, we can leverage on our fluid communication and interpersonal skills to achieve our objectives e.g. persuading the person to our point of view.

Q: What would be your advice for aspiring women entrepreneurs keen in starting a business?

A: Stay hungry and focus on things you yourself can control – your drive, your perseverance, your tenacity. Because there will always be challenges for different types of entrepreneurs out there. E.g. young entrepreneurs, F&B entrepreneurs or in some communities, even entrepreneurs from certain race or maybe background. As entrepreneurs, I believe that it is more productive and effective to create the right condition for ourselves rather than waiting for others to improve upon the existing conditions.

As female entrepreneur, we need to use our strengths to our advantage. For example, rather than taking on a more masculine persona to blend in with the guys, we can leverage on our fluid communication and interpersonal skills to achieve our objectives e.g. persuading the person to our point of view. As females, I believe that generally, we are also more adaptable. Hence, we can use this to our advantage to make the best out of the market or industry conditions.

I would also encourage women entrepreneurs to open up and share with one another. The number one thing young female entrepreneurs or any business leaders need to know is: don’t be too shy to ask. A lot of people, when they go into business, would feel like they need to do everything on their own. But the truth is that, there are a lot of people who have walked the same paths and gone through the same trials and errors, and if you would just ask for advice, help, or guidance, you’d be surprised that a lot of them are actually more than willing to share their experiences. So you don’t have to go through what they have gone through and make the mistakes they have made. I have benefited from many female mentors, my da jie jies who have been very generous with their time and sharing when I first started out. This is something I benefit greatly for being a part of Entrepreneur Organization (EO) Singapore as well. I would love to be able to give back to young women entrepreneurs.

Q: As a matchmaking expert, what makes a strong and lasting relationship?

A: My 3 secrets to a happy and lasting marriage:

Choosing the Right Mate. This is the most crucial factor. Because if you choose the wrong person, it is going to be an uphill task trying to make things right subsequently in the marriage. If you choose the right person, you are 50% on your way!

Agreeing on Money Matters Early. After choosing the right mate, it is very important that you and your other half actually have very clear expectations about money matters. It is absolutely vital and important to understand each other’s values when it comes to money.

Even if you and your partner have different values, it is good to know where both parties are coming from so you can think of ways to resolve potential problems before the problem becomes too big a problem to resolve.

Embracing Each Other’s Imperfections. Many people go into marriage thinking everything will be perfect. Sometimes, I think it is bad that we try to make our wedding perfect. After such ‘perfection’, some people go into their marriage having an expectation that everything will be perfect and their marriage will be a bed of roses. But since we are humans, we can never be perfect. If two imperfect people come together, there are sure to be some imperfections along the way. Embrace these imperfections, and these imperfections will even grow on us.

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