Violet Lim was working as Management Associate at Citigroup Singapore, when she realised that she had so many single colleagues who were not even dating.
It all seemed rather puzzling to Violet as they were attractive and eligible people. She soon found out that it was because they were working long hours; they were virtually married to the bank.
And that's how the idea for dating agency Lunch Actually was born.
When Violet Lim came across the concept of lunch dating, she was immediately attracted to the idea, because she felt that lunch was ‘short, sweet and simple’ – long enough for you to get to know someone, yet it was not too long that it would become awkward.
At the age of 24, she and her then-fiance-now-husband, Jamie Lee, decided to go into the dating industry in Singapore together.
Having always been passionate about helping people, she decided to quit her job at the bank and start a new career as a modern-day matchmaker, where the business was not just about making money, but helping to make a difference in people’s lives by helping them find their life-long happiness.
Challenges faced as entrepreneurs
When Violet and Jamie first started Lunch Actually in 2004, there was still a huge stigma attached to the dating industry. It was hard to find an office willing to rent to Lunch Actually, and newspapers were not interested in advertising the company except in the Classified ads.
Parents and friends also voiced their objections and concerns.
While the dating industry has become more socially accepted since 2004, even now, challenges exist for Lunch Actually.
The first hurdle is for singles to decide to even use a dating service, because maybe in their minds they think only people who cannot find someone on their own would use a dating service. The second hurdle is for the singles to actually tell others that they are using a dating service.
Even though there are many couples who have met through Lunch Actually, this is not known to the public because many of them are too shy to share or rather “forget” how they actually met. They will tell their friends that they met through mutual friends.
The other challenge for a dating company is, the more efficient you are, the faster your clients leave you.
To counter these challenges, Lunch Actually recently embarked on a new project - Viola.AI - the world’s smartest love AI that evolves with the user along their relationship lifeline, from single, to dating, to courtship, to engagement and even to marriage.
Through this manner, Lunch Actually hopes to be able to fulfill the company’s massive transformative purpose of helping people to have better lifetime relationships, and not just focus on the one vertical of which is dating.
Running a business with your spouse
So what are some pros and cons of running a business with your spouse?
Both Jamie and Violet strongly believe that if husband and a wife have an opportunity to build a business together and they could somehow find a way to work with each other and do not end up killing each other, that would be the best and most ideal working arrangement.
In Violet's words, "There will not be another person in the world who would be as aligned to your life and business goals as your spouse, provided you chose the right person to spend the rest of your life with."
For the record, Violet and Jamie met at university when they were both studying in the UK. They dated for 5 years before they tied the knot in October 2005.
Jamie reveals, "Some people thought we were crazy to go into business together, but spending so much time together has allowed us to grow as a couple."
"Like any other marriage, we have disagreements. We don't pretend to be the perfect couple. However, if Violet's better at something, I have no issues with her taking charge, and vice versa."
"Disagreements happen in any relationship, but how you quarrel is important. We should always show respect to our partner and avoid character assassination."
"By arguing in the "right way" through focusing on the action and instead of the person, it helps to minimise bitterness and unhappiness."
Of course, working with one's spouse means that there will be no work-personal life boundaries, and it may even mean discussing work at home. However, Violet and Jamie won't have it any other way.
Juggling a company and kids
Violet and Jamie are also parents to 2 children - 12 year old Corum and 9 year old Cara.
Which brings us to how she manages it all, from running a company to looking after kids?
Violet credits her success to having a strong support system, from Jamie to her extended family members, friends and helper, both at work and at home.
The couple share their parenting duties. Jamie has always been hands-on with raising their children even helping with changing diapers and night duties. He is also willing to look after the kids when Violet needs to attend conferences and meetings on overseas trips.
Violet also makes sure she schedules and have monthly dates with Corum and Cara – spending time with them individually – doing things that they enjoy to strengthen their bond.
She even has annual trips with each of her kids to spend one-on-one time with them. It is an opportunity for them to see mummy at work and also an opportunity for mummy to bond with them on a personal basis.
Whatsapp and FaceTime are also great tools to keep in touch with the kids when mummy is away from home.
We also get curious and ask, a few years down the line, what relationship advice would Violet give her kids?
Violet tells us, "I would tell them that love is not a feeling, it is a commitment. Marriage is not finding someone that you love passionately right now. It is about finding someone that you can fall in love with over and over again."
"Someone who is your Best Friend. Someone whom you can imagine yourself growing old with. Looks do not last forever, wealth can be lost overnight."
"Ultimately, will this person be willing to be a witness for your life, the ups and the downs, and be your life champion, cheerleader and your rock?"
"Mummy has found this person in your daddy. I hope you find your true love too."
Singaporeans and their relationships
We can't help but wonder about some commonly seen relationship problems in Singapore?
Violet tells us that some relationship problems are universal, such as not having constant open communication, not putting in the effort and time to keep the romance alive, and taking each other for granted, such as by not making an effort for their physical appearance.
They think, well, we're already together, so why do I have to impress him/ her?
However, she strongly feels that, no matter how busy you are, it is important to schedule time with your significant other for date nights and couple-only time.
People sometimes cop out too early, and think there are just too many problems to their relationship, it’s just not working out and they should just move on. Yet, every marriage has different stress points. It’s just about how much they want to work on it.
Also, money issue is also one of the key contributing factor to relationship breakdowns. As we grow up in different households and have different life experiences, it is natural that we would deal with money differently.
Violet feels that it is important to have the money talk before walking down the aisle. Manage each other’s expectations and set rules and boundaries on how you would like to manage your income and expenses to spare yourself from future headaches and heartaches.
Advice for mums and dads, on how to keep the spark alive
Lastly, Violet Lim gives 5 great tips for all of us mums and dads looking for ways to keep the spark alive in our relationships:
Have regular date nights
“It could be a dinner or a movie. If the kids are too young, just have a coffee or tea date at home!”
Embark on a joint project every year
“It is very common for couples to grow apart. Doing something together or learning something new together will help to keep the spark alive.”
Schedule time to be together
“Calendar in your couple time. Do not leave it to when you are free. Chances are, you will never be. Set aside time, put it in your calendar and stick to it.”
Know thyself, and each other
“Find out what each other's love languages are. That would save you a lot of heartache. Often, your spouse loves you a lot more than you know or think!”
Go on a vacation without the kids
“This might be difficult when the kids are young, but once the kids are older and you have a support network, take a few days out just for both of you, without the kids!