MAKE A DATE
"Witnessing a couple’s life journey is the most rewarding part of Violet Lim’s job"
It was during her former stint at a bank that Violet Lim found herself baffled by a strange phenomenon — many of her colleagues, despite being well-groomed, successful and very eligible, were single and not seeing anyone, while friends in other social circles were getting married and having children. Lim eventually found a reason for this seemingly inexplicable situation. “Couples usually meet their other halves at university or school, and it gets increasingly difficult to find the right one later on in life,” she notes.
During this time, she also came across the concept of lunch dating, which was popular in the UK, US and Australia but had not been picked up in Singapore. The only dating services available then were offered by traditional matchmakers. “The concept really struck a chord with me and I could see my colleagues adopting it,” says Lim, who was the community service chairperson for her bank’s staff recreation club. “As employees of a bank, they work very long hours but they never miss their lunch hour. Besides, lunch provides enough time for you to meet someone and know if you want to take it further, but not long enough for it to become awkward.”
So in April 2004, at the age of 24, she started Lunch Actually. Now into its 13th year, the company has since grown beyond the confines of a conventional dating website. “Previously, we focused on just being the platform to bring people together, but now we have other services and our Lunch Actually Academy, which offers date coaching and image coaching services,” says Lim. “Date coaching is also life coaching. A lot of times, people are single because they think they have not met the right one. But finding the right one isn’t just about meeting the right one, it is also about being and choosing the right one.”
Image coaching is relatively more straightforward, the 37-year-old explains. “We help clients present themselves in the best light while remaining authentic to themselves; there is no point in trying to change a person or make him or her into someone else. We do image analyses and based on their personalities, we come up with an image personality. We take them shopping, do a wardrobe audit and ask for pictures of the clothes they have. For ladies, we also help with makeup.” By making small little tweaks, Lim adds, one can see significantly improved results.
More than just bringing people together, the goal is to give couples the right outlook and skills to maintain a meaningful relationship, Lim says hers is a business like no other. “It’s just incredible to see their life journey. In my previous corporate job, I felt trapped and could not really see the impact of my work on society. But in this line, the results are very tangible. It does come with its own set of challenges but it is also very rewarding.”
In her role as the CEO and co-founder of Lunch Actually, Lim sets the strategy and direction of the business, and works with her country heads to drive the business abroad. She is also the face of the company, speaking at engagements covering a variety of topics such as the scope of entrepreneurship, dating and relationships, and cross-gender communications.
When Lunch Actually was first established, there were only three people on the team, including Lim and her then-fiancé (and now husband) Jamie Lee. Today, the team is 106 strong, with a presence in KL, Penang, Hong Kong, Bangkok and Jakarta. Its reputation and branding is helped by extensive media coverage, coupled with advertising through digital media.
When asked what she thinks of Lunch Actually’s success today, Lim is modest about the business’ achievements, noting that the corporate culture has played a significant role in the growth of the company. “I feel we aren’t really there yet. Jamie and I make a great team as we have different strengths and leverage on each other. As we built the company, we have been blessed with great people who have stayed with us for a while – I have three associates who have been with us for 10 years, while many more have been with us for five or seven years.” To maintain a healthy and happy working environment, she implements a strict policy of zero office politics, which some have criticised as being impractical or unrealistic, but the results are clearly evident.
Outside the office, the team pays it forward by engaging in various charitable initiatives. In 2016, the company raised money for the Cerebral Palsy Alliance Singapore by making mooncakes and selling them to family and friends. The local teams in Malaysia, Thailand, Hong Kong and Indonesia each contribute in different ways, from making regular visits to old folks’ homes and orphanages to donating bento boxes to the elderly. Lim, who is a member of the Rotary Club at Suntec City, says she is exploring more ways in which the company can give back to society.
Elaborating on the future growth of Lunch Actually, Lim notes that it is crucial for the company to innovate and set challenges for itself. At the same time, it is constantly coming up with products and services that compete with each other — this counter-intuitive move has enabled the business to stay ahead of the game.
“If people think you’re crazy, you’re probably on the right track,” Lim laughs. “You cannot go down the path that everybody has taken, or else how are you going to find the breakthrough? As long as you put one foot ahead of the other, you will eventually get there.”