Violet LIM is the co-founder of Lunch Actually, a premier modern dating company which organizes discreet, personal and confidential Lunch Dates for busy executives.
The company currently operates out of Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong. She is also the co-founder of Eteract.com, Asia’s first online speed dating portal.
Violet is the first Asian to be certified by Matchmaking Institute, New York and is also the Charter President of the Association of Dating Agencies and Matchmakers (Singapore). Violet also keeps a personal blog at www.violetlim.com where she shares her musings on love, dating and matchmaking.
FULL NAME: Violet LIM
PLACE OF BIRTH: Singapore
CITY OF RESIDENCE: Singapore
EDUCATION: London School Of Economics, Industrial Relations & Personnel Management
What prompted you to start out Lunch Actually as a dating service?
I was previously working with a bank, where I observed that many of my colleagues were single and not dating. I was quite curious as they were not unattractive or ineligible.
At the same time, I had many friends who were getting married. And they were the same age as my colleague. After further investigation, I realized that my friends who were tying the knot met their other half at school and at university. That’s actually how I met my husband as well. So it dawned upon me that if you kind of “miss the boat”, it gets increasingly more difficult to meet your someone special.
Lunch dating is a concept that has been popular in the UK, US and Australia for some time. However, nobody has brought the concept over here to Asia. After some market research, Jamie (my then boyfriend, now husband), decided to start Lunch Actually in April 2004.
How does your company help professionals (who are usually very busy people) and executives to find love within a busy and hectic city in Singapore?
Our unique selling point is we do all the legwork for our clients, and all they have to do is to turn up at the restaurant and enjoy their date! Busy professionals and executives are finding it increasingly difficult and frustrating to meet people within busy and hectic Singapore.
Many a times, you are attracted to someone to only later find out that he or she is married or attached. Or he or she possess a quality/characteristics that is a ‘deal-breaker’ for you e.g. you would never date a smoker or a divorcee. That’s where we come in. We meet up with our clients to find out more about their profile and preferences. And when we do the match, we match on both parties’ preferences.
When they meet up with their date, their date is already someone who fits the profile whom they are looking for and vice versa. This makes the entire process a lot more time efficient and effective. On top of that, we gather feedback after the date. This would help us know what our clients like or dislike about our match, and from there, we are able to refine the matching criteria to look for more suitable matches for them!
What is your advice for any professionals who seek Lunch Actually to help in arranging the date?
First and foremost, keep an open mind. The biggest hurdle that many professionals and executives are not able to overcome is the fact that they are using a dating service.
The truth is most people who use dating services are people like you and me – normal people who just do not have the time or opportunity to meet their special someone. By keeping a positive mindset, you would also come across as more appealing to your dates.
Do not be tempted to go to each date with a ‘checklist syndrome’. Do not start judging your date even before they sit down… i.e. ‘he’s not tall enough’, not confident enough etc… And last but not least, be open to go on second dates. If the first date did not end disastrously or you did not have a bad impression, it’s good to just go on a second date to find out more about each other.
Most of our success couples did not have instant chemistry on their first dates i.e. there isn’t fireworks, but they did enjoy their date, and were willing to go on second and third dates, and eventually find each other to be compatible. So, do not close off your options too early! ;)
What about Eteract? How did it start?
Having been an offline lunch dating agency for a few years, we have always been on the trying out new concepts and looking out for interesting new ideas. We have also always been fascinated with the online dating model and keeping track of what was happening in the dating industry. We felt that online dating would have many synergies with our offline lunch dating model but for a long time, we were not content to start just another online dating site without a differentiating point from the existing sites out there.
One afternoon, we simply had an eureka moment and wondered was it possible to bring the popular speed dating offline event and transform it to become an online platform instead. Hence the idea of Eteract started to take shape.
Eteract is a online dating site for singles. How does it distinguish itself from dating portals we have seen elsewhere?
Eteract has a blend of features and activities that most online dating sites lack. While most online dating sites focus on just sending out messages and winks, we allow singles to do activities together to increase the amount of interaction they have with one another and meet someone immediately in real time. For example, singles can do online video speed dating and join a group chat. Besides just uploading photos, we allow them to use members to avatars to represent themselves during the speed dating sessions and groups chat and send each other virtual gifts to break the ice between them.
How does Eteract help to translate dating for singles from offline to online?
We allow them to take part in the above mentioned online activities which allows them to meet new people immediately rather than simply sending out 30 messages and hopefully getting replies in 5 of those. We also structured the site to be more of a social networking based theme in which you add friends, join clubs, get updates on what your friends which makes it an easier premise to meet new people rather than just adding a person to your favorite list of people to communicate with in the hope of starting a relationship which is what most online dating sites do.
One of the main challenges for dating sites is the issue of authenticity, particularly the danger where a user does not know who he or she is talking to. How does Eteract assure that people are not using fake identities to date?
In Singapore, we are accredited by the government which means we do marital status checks, NRIC verifications to ensure that this person did not lie about his age and is a real person as well.
For all the countries, we will conduct regular checks on the members that create an account so we can remove the people that have set up a dubious profile or photo.
We also allow the our members to report abuse to us which we will then investigate and if necessary send warnings or ban the account. With all these checks, people who have bad intentions will have a harder time on our site due to these screenings and checks.
Looking at other successful dating sites out there such as Match.com and eHarmony, which monetization strategies for these portals you think are particular successful?
These are currently the 2 most successfully monetized dating sites in the world and they rely on the humble “Pay to communicate” subscription model. There has been a lot of talk on how this subscription model is out-dated and how free dating sites are getting more market share and eventually will take over the world. Being in the dating service for 5 years and running both an online and offline dating service, we know that this is simply not true.
It is true that the free dating sites will definitely get more traffic and even grow faster in their database sizes, however these sites will also inherit a lot of problems as well, especially from many frivolous people who just want to try it out for fun and have nothing to lose. A paid subscription sites sends a signal to the public that its members are willing to invest money to communicate. This gives the perception that these members are more serious and sincerely looking for a relationship which is the subtle end goal of most people who join an online dating service in the first place.
Is it better to have 10 million users who are simply creating profiles for fun, are not active i.e. they do not bother to reply to messages or deal with countless of messages that are spammed out OR is it better to have 1 million members that are serious about finding someone while also having less worry about being spammed from the non-serious members?
For a dating service, the latter is better.
At the end of the day for a dating service to be successful, it is not just about having the biggest database and enjoying a lot of traffic but we feel that it is more important to have have the best quality database can be monetized. Match.com with its “shrinking” market share has been growing its revenues year by year and which now stands at US$420 million. Plenty of Fish which is one of the biggest free dating sites, in comparison earns US$10 million from Google Adsense. And ironically most of the adverts on the site link to the very paid dating sites it is purported to be replacing.
What are the future features you like to implement on Eteract?
We have just moved out of development stage and our key challenge now is to build the critical mass for our database for the concept of online activities to be successful. Our concept requires a lot of people to be online at the same time for them to do activities with each other which is a challenge especially during certain times of the day when most people are at work. Hence we are looking at projects and developments that can address this challenge.
What do you see as the three most important attributes for an entrepreneur?
These are the three important attributes in our opinion, and we are striving to apply these in our own entrepreneurial journey.
(1) An entrepreneur must have drive and passion to succeed. From this drive arises his/her willingness to put in the necessary hours, find solutions faster and learn from necessary people to ensure his business achieves the kind of success it deserves.
(2) An entrepreneur must be willing to take intelligent risks. Many businesses get stalled in this as they are so against risk taking or incurring new costs so as to maintain that security blanket against failure. While many of them may not fail, many also do not get much tractions and leverage to grow much as well. However taking risks have to tempered with sound judgment to know which risks have a higher chances of success versus which risk is simple fallacy. It is however difficult to differentiate these risks and sometimes you just have to learn from failure and mistakes. It is just part of the journey.
(3) An entrepreneur must be able to nurture talent. No person can afford to be an island and seriously expect to succeed in today’s world. All the top entrepreneur formed powerful teams around them to reach where they are. An entrepreneur must learn how to manage, motivate and inspire their team to do their best.
Given the current financial climate, what advice do you give to budding entrepreneurs out there?
In the most “interesting” of times lies the opportunities that may be lacking in the “good” times. Many successful startups are actually founded during economic downturns.
Get creative, and try to see things from perspective that people do not see. And of course, do not give up. If you first entrepreneurial idea falls flat, keep searching and keep looking. Many successful entrepreneurs succeed not because they are the smartest but because they are the most tenacious.
For more information, visit //www.lunchactually.com and //www.eteract.com
Violet is a valued member of our SENATUS community.