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This SG-based Dating App Founder Sees Big Potential in Offline Matchmaking Amid Mobile Boom Her passion to create a business where the idea was not just about making money, but helping to make a difference in people's lives by helping them find their life-long happiness led her to launch Lunch Actually in 2004 in Singapore

By Aashika Jain

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Lunch Actually Group

Violet Lim, the Co-Founder & CEO of Lunch Actually Group, decided to quit her job at a bank and start a new career as a modern-day matchmaker fifteen years ago.

Her passion to create a business where the idea was not just about making money, but helping to make a difference in people's lives by helping them find their life-long happiness led her to launch Lunch Actually in 2004 in Singapore. The startup expanded to Malaysia, Hong Kong, Indonesia and Thailand soon after.

A tete-a-tete with Lim revealed some nitty-gritties of starting up a dating platform and executing its success.

Q) What led to the inception of Lunch Actually?

A) Well, if I were to tell you my childhood dream was to be a matchmaker, I will be pulling your leg! Prior to starting Lunch Actually, I read law and have a masters in human resources. My first job a Management Associate at a global bank.

When I was working in the bank, I realised 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. Most of my friends who were getting married met their other half at school or at university. That was where I met my husband as well. That was where I observed that if you miss the opportunity of meeting someone at school or at university, it gets increasingly difficult to meet someone. 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. I also 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!

Q) How is the app better than other apps in APAC region?

A) Well, Lunch Actually is an offline matchmaking service, so we are definitely different than dating apps. And our positioning has always been clear - we want to help serious singles find love. We are not about casual dating, which is what most apps have the reputation for.

Our dating consultants meet up with each potential client face to face and there is a strict verification process to ensure that our database only consists of serious, eligible singles.

For serious daters who know that they don't have time to waste to meet unsuitable and non-genuine singles, they would definitely have more trust and faith to enroll in a reputable dating company like ours, where there is a high level of privacy and confidentiality, and we do the pre-screening, matching as well as arrangement of dates with suitable and compatible matches for them.

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.

Q) Who does Violet Lim see as competition?

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. With the popularity of dating apps, people are more used to the idea of 'outsourcing' their love life to a professional third party.

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.

Therefore, we have continued innovating and we launched our own dating app - LunchClick and an online matchmaking platform called esync - with the same target audience: serious singles who want to find love.

Q) More than a decade since your inception, what has changed in the dating ecosystem?

A) We have witnessed the transformation of the dating landscape from the traditional one-to-one, face-to-face dating to today's world of digital dating where singles are reduced to a single photo to be swiped left or right. If the photo is not to their liking, they will not bother to read the profile description the other party has painstakingly written.

Chatting has become like mini dates - every question, every reply, every emoticon is used to judge and scrutinise whether they want to continue with the conversation. In between the online interaction and an offline date, people might end up being "ghosted" and not even realise why. It could be due to comments that they have made during these "mini dates". And the other party has just made judgment of who they are just based on what they type and decide not to meet up in person. This is a pity because if they have given the other person a chance and meet up in person, they might actually like the person because online chats are very one-dimensional.

But this is the reality of today's dating scene, and so we are continuously coaching and educating our singles on how to make a good first impression when they use dating apps, and how to attract and communicate more efficiently with their online matches.

Q) Do you think Asians accept dating sites with a free mind. What can change or improve in the ecosystem to help people find real love.

A) Yes, I think people nowadays definitely have gotten more open and receptive towards dating services. It's no longer taboo or a weird thing that singles use a third party to help them find love.

What I think we can do improve the ecosystem further, is to continue educating our youth and young adults in terms of dating. Most people focus on their career and only realize when they are in their 30s or 40s that they need to find someone and settle down.

Dating takes time – you can't expect to get married at a certain age, but you do not even want to start dating. Date early and date more people before you decide to get married because only by dating, then you would know what you want or do not want in your future partner. It's important to educate singles that they can still achieve their career goals, all while dating or being married.

Aashika Jain

Entrepreneur Staff

Former Associate Editor, Entrepreneur India

Journalist in the making since 2006! My fastest fingers have worked for India's business news channel CNBC-TV18, global news wire Thomson Reuters, the digital arm of India’s biggest newspaper The Economic Times and Entrepreneur India as the Digital Head. 

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