Career Advice Successful entrepreneurs’ story

Violet Lim of Lunch Actually brings together professionals looking for love

In providing tailor-made dates for busy professionals in Hong Kong, Lunch Actually aims to help anyone looking to find “the right one”.

“When we started the business, in a way, it was kind of like an extension of my personal life mission. I’ve always wanted to help people and to change the world,” says Violet Lim, co-founder and CEO of Lunch Actually Group.

Lim and her then fiancé and now husband, Jamie Lee, launched Lunch Actually in 2004 in Singapore. The dating service platform now has six offices across Asia-Pacific, including Hong Kong.

Prior to starting her own company, Lim worked at a bank where colleagues complained that they found it difficult to date.

“I was wondering to myself why is it my friends are getting married or engaged, but my colleagues [almost the same age] are still single and not dating?” says Lim.

She adds that those who had already found love had often started dating during their schooldays. Lim herself met her husband at university.

According to Lim, if people miss that kind of opportunity, it gets increasingly difficult to find their soulmate, especially when they start working.

Lim borrowed the concept of lunch dating, which was then popular in the UK and Australia, and implemented it in Asia.

Now married with two children, aged 11 and 8, Lim is also the first Asian to be certified by the Matchmaking Institute in New York.

Lunch Actually caters to a niche market that ranges from executives, directors and lawyers, to accountants, doctors and entrepreneurs. It brands itself as Asia’s premier lunch dating company.

Nevertheless, at the beginning, landlords were not convinced. She had initially pursued an office at a grade-A building in the city’s business district because her target markets were upscale professionals. But the landlord refused after learning about the details of her company.

“The stigma of the industry was so huge that you couldn’t rent a building you wanted,” Lim says. She had to settle for an office not far from the spot she had wanted, and stayed there for a couple of years. And, when advertising her company’s business in the newspaper, she was told to place it in the classified section. But Lim was anxious to differentiate her company from others already in the matchmaking business.

In each regional office, surveys are conducted regarding preferences over potential partners. These take into account the census provided by the local government in order to figure out the gender ratio between men and women in the city.

Lunch Actually has already organised over 100,000 dates, and boasts an 85 per cent success rate in clients finding love.

Asked about the remaining percentage where connection is unsuccessful, Lim says that during the early stages of client and consultant getting to know each other, “it’s important that we manage their expectations”.

While the database covers a mixed segment of society, when it comes to appearance, Lunch Actually is not a modelling agency. “If clients’ expectations cannot be managed, then we won’t ask them to sign up. It would create a big problem,” Lim says.

Also, some clients can be demanding and scold their consultants. When these situations arise, Lim makes sure that she provides a supportive environment. Her industry is a niche market. And it can be an emotional roller-coaster ride for everyone, especially her consultants, which can result in burnout and high turnover rates.

“It’s important to strengthen the company culture, to make sure that people don’t leave just because their clients screamed at them,” Lim says.

Aside from having the largest lunch dating membership base, Lunch Actually has also launched esync, another dating service, using a phone consultation platform; LunchClick, the first female-centric app; and classes on image and dating.

Lim says her company has lots of future plans but is remaining tight-lipped for now.

Still, one thing is for sure. “We will continue to innovate, like the way we started with an offline business, and now, we have an online business because we have been close to the ground, knowing what people need and helping them to find love and create a marriage. That’s what we are doing,” says Lim.