The first thing that will strike you about Entrepreneur Violet Lim is her bright purple outfit.
As you read through my interview with her, you will learn that it is intentional. Just like how Steve Jobs would always be in black and Mark Zuckerberg in his greys, donning purple consistently helped in positioning.
Her success story has been nothing short of amazing.
Starting at a time when the perception of such services are things only your parents would do, Lunch Actually not only have to educate the market while finding market validation.
Today, Lunch Actually is South East Asia number 1 dating expert with six offices in Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Indonesia and Thailand.
1. Please share a bit about what you do.
I’m the Co-Founder and CEO of Lunch Actually Group.
Lunch Actually is South East Asia’s first and largest lunch dating company. Lunch Actually to-date has presence in 6 cities, five countries and have 100+ 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 customers increase their success rate.
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 conversation, 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.
Our well-trained dating expert handpicks each and every match. Once matched, we will contact both parties to share with them the details of it.
With approval from the two sides, we will proceed to arrange the date, book the restaurant, finalise 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 comments, we will fine-tune the dating criteria to find them their next match.
2. What were you doing before starting your business?
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 the 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 the law, it was not my calling.
My first job was with Citigroup Singapore as a Management Associate, and that was where I first got the inspiration for starting a dating agency, as I had so many single colleagues.
3. How did the idea for your business come about?
Violet with her co-founder/husband Jamie
As an 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 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.
4. What sacrifices have you had to make to be a successful entrepreneur?
From the earlier part when we first started the company, what I had to sacrifice mainly was my lifestyle.
When I worked in Citi, I was earning $3k+ a month, and after starting Lunch Actually, at that time the paycheck that Jamie and I got was $800, so definitely compromises had to be made; I had to cut back on taking cabs, eating out at restaurants, and even hanging out to meet friends as much. Mainly it was financial aspect.
I also read an article previously that said something like “If you are a start-up founder, between sleep, family, work, friends and health – among these five things, you can only do 3.”
So I thought about it, and the thing that I probably sacrificed the most is my friends; I could not meet them as much. But this year, my word of the year is ‘connect’, and I’ve been making an extra effort to connect with them.
[Tweet “Between sleep, family, work, friends and health – you can only choose 3. – Entrepreneur Violet Lim”]
5. How did you get funded?
When we started the business, we knew we didn’t want to be just a mom-and-pop shop.
Nothing wrong with that, but we wanted to build a business, and with that we needed proper office and it needed money.
So what we did was we sat down to write a business plan and started meeting investors. The first person we met decided to invest. We were very blessed.
Together with the investor’s capital, we have begun with S$150,000.
When we’re starting out, cash flow is king. There were times when we were short of cash flow, so we went back to the investor and explained our situation.
So they were very nice as well that they lent us money to help us tide over the situation and we paid them back afterwards.
6. Could you describe your first sale and how it came about?
Because from day 1, Jamie and I knew we didn’t want to go ‘in’ the business and that’s why from the beginning we already hired an associate. So the first sale was done by our associate.
The first person who came to our office for a consultation was a friend of a friend after we spread the words around about what we do and our friends were also sharing about us to their single friends.
That’s how we got our earlier leads. So we did many roleplays before that, and when the client came, the consultation took much longer than it usually does, and ultimately the client said ‘Yes, I’ll sign up.”
Everybody was very excited and happy because that point was when it stopped becoming just a concept but something that is real, which someone was willing to put down money on.
7. What has been your most successful form of marketing?
I think from early on; we’ve had a strong vision of how we want our brand to be.
Even though we are in the dating industry, we do not use red colour 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 apparent association to it with ‘love’ and ‘relationship’. That 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 or 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.
8. Describe/outline your typical day?
- Wake up at about 7, run or do some exercise, hang out with Cara before she goes to kindergarten (Corum is in primary school)
- Reach work at 11 am
- Leave work at about 7 pm, hang out with the kids (reading, outdoor activities, learning, playing games), bedtime routine (stories, prayer)
- Kids in bed by 9.30pm, spend time with hubby to catch up on the day, bedtime by 12am.
- The focus over weekends would be on family and the kids. 🙂
9. Who has been your greatest influence in your business and why?
We started the business together. We are two very different people, yet we complement each other very well.
He influenced me a lot that when I felt like ‘how we’re going to do this’ or “how we’re going to make it happen”, he would give me different perspectives, he would ask me questions or share with me why he sees things his way. And in return, he has helped me shape the business.
For example, people ask me why do I wear purple all the time? It’s Jamie’s idea.
He suggested since I always appeared in many media, why not create a personal branding? And that’s how I always wear purple in my media appearances.
And for the last 12 years that’s what we have been doing; bouncing ideas off each other and growing the business.
10. What has been your proudest moment in the history of your business and why?
Regarding business, the biggest achievement in 2014 – we celebrate ten years in business! Lunch Actually Group has successfully grown more than 50% this year and hit a new revenue milestone!
During our early part of the business, our growth has been consistent but slow to moderate.
The turning point was when I was given this book by one of our board of directors called “Double Double” written by Cameron Herold, and I was challenged to do this; to double our business in 2 years.
At that point, when we made this decision to hit a particular milestone, it seemed impossible and our associates thought it would not happen, but we worked hard towards it.
We came up with the roadmap, the plans, and kept tracking our progress, and finally, when we hit it, it’s an achievement and our first milestone!
11. What were some of the biggest lessons that have impacted the way that you work?
One of it would be: Management
As any new manager, when I first started, I wanted to be everybody’s best friend. And that did not work out very well because it’s hard to be someone’s supervisor and best friend.
I felt very disheartened, and as an effect, I then went to the other spectrum, whereby I drew a clear line that work is work; but that didn’t work out as well.
But the lesson that I learnt is that there needs to be a balance. You need to be firm, but at the same time, relate to your colleagues.
So ever since I found that balance and my management style which I’m comfortable with, that has worked out much better. As a result, I can also see the company grow.
Another one is: Learning to delegate
I started to realise that being able to delegate is not an easy thing to do.
Some associates asked, “so how did you manage to let go and delegate when you know that you can do it much better and faster if you do it on your own?”
But what I realised is that we have to start from somewhere. As the company grows, I only have 24 hours in a day and yes, if I do every single thing by myself, I probably can do it faster and better but the only reason why is because I have experience doing it.
But if I’m not willing to give other people a chance to get that experience, they will never get there, and the company will never grow because I’m always stuck doing the same thing and other people will not learn.
So if I give someone a chance to start, where eventually they can be as good, then I can do more things and delegate more responsibilities. That’s how we can scale the company. So ever since I’m able to do that, I can learn more things, challenge myself more, and do more things I otherwise did not have time before.
12. What is your biggest screw-up over your entrepreneurial journey?
I think I’m a person who always looks forward. If I were to look back and reflect on past mistakes, I’m sure there would probably be a lot.
But at the same time, I don’t regret any of these ‘mistakes’, because I learned something from every single one of them. And if it didn’t happen then, it probably would be worse off in the future.
So I can’t think of one mistake that really impacted me, and I’ll just say that I’m happy that it happened as it helped me be the person that I am, who continuously grow the business to where it is now.
13. If you could go back in time to speak to your 20-year-old self, what would you tell her?
The importance of building great teams and surrounding yourself with competent people.
In the midst of the craziness that I was going through this year, what kept me sane were the people around me. Jamie, my parents, my helper, my extended family, my fantastic team at work, my friends.
When I had to go for an urgent work trip, my support network at home pulled their weight and helped out with the kids.
When I was feeling down and drained, and could not muster the strength to chair yet another strategy planning retreat, Jamie stepped in and did a fantastic job.
When I was not sure if I could push my team any harder, the leaders themselves stepped up, kept morale up and took up the load on their shoulders. I am thankful for each and every one of these angels in my life.
14. What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
An entrepreneur must have drive and passion for succeeding.
From this drive raise his/her willingness to put in the necessary hours, find solutions faster and learn from appropriate people to ensure his business achieves the kind of success it deserves.
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 temper with sound judgement to know which risks have a higher chance of success versus which risk is pure 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.
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 dominant teams around them to reach where they are. An entrepreneur must learn how to manage, motivate and inspire their team to do their best.
15. What’s your business focus for this year?
Continuing to scale up the business to the next level; growing by at least 50% and expanding to new regions and products.
16. How can we find you?
Personal blog: www.violetlim.com
Featured image credit: High Net Worth