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Going beyond height and long hair: Marriage, dating and life lessons with Violet Lim, Lunch Actually

Starting a dating business at the age of 24, Violet Lim went “On the Record” with 938LIVE's Bharati Jagdish about low marriage and high divorce rates in Singapore, making her own marriage work and how the dating industry has evolved.

SINGAPORE: It was a simple business idea. Busy professionals looking for love needed help and she could help provide it. That was 12 years ago, and Violet Lim, now the CEO and co-founder of the Lunch Actually Group, took the plunge into the business at the age of 24, with her then-fiance and now-husband.

It has since grown to incorporate online and mobile app dating services, and expanded across Southeast Asia, claiming to be the largest group of dating services in the region. Lim has plans to expand even further.

To date, the Lunch Actually Group has more than half a million members in its database and has arranged more than 70,000 dates, with an estimated 3,000 marriages under its belt. Lim was a trained lawyer and at some point, a human resources practitioner at a bank. It was in these jobs that the idea for a professional dating service came about.  

She went “On the Record” with Bharati Jagdish about low marriage and high divorce rates in Singapore, making her own marriage work and how the dating industry has evolved.


They started talking about how her exposure to divorce made her determined to help couples enter successful and lasting marriages.

Violet Lim:  I did quite a number of attachments at law firms. So I made known to my boss then that I was interested in family law, so he brought me to court for divorce cases and he let me read all the case files. I remember one that struck me quite hard. It was a legal letter that we wrote for a client and it said: “I'm writing on behalf of my client to inform you to pick up your son at 3pm on some date at school.”

Bharati: This was the ex-wife and ex-husband talking to each other.

Lim: Yes, in a legal letter. And I was just thinking to myself that it’s so sad that a relationship has broken down so much that you can't even just tell that to each other. You actually have to write a legal letter to tell each other that. Going to court and just seeing how people get divorced made me think it’s actually quite similar to getting married. It’s just that instead of saying "I do" to getting married, you’re saying "I do" to getting divorced. I just thought it was very sad.

Then when I was at the bank, I realized that my banker colleagues who were all very eligible, were alone only because they didn’t have time to date. So I thought they would appreciate a matchmaking agency that catered to their needs and helped find them matches more efficiently.

DEALING WITH STIGMA

Bharati: When you started the business, while you managed to get investors with enough foresight to put in about S$150,000, you had challenges that really showed there was a stigma attached to professional matchmaking services.

Lim: Yes, when we first started the business we wanted to look for an office. How difficult could it be? At that time, there was an economic crisis and the rentals were all coming down. And in fact with the capital that we had accumulated, we could get quite a nice office but when we finally decided on one, we realized it wasn’t going to be so easy.

At first, the landlords were quite happy to show us around, but when it was time to sign the papers, they asked our agent, "So what actually does your client do?" When our agent told them we run a dating service, the landlord said, "Okay, I think their business is too ‘advanced’."

Bharati: What did they really mean?

Lim:  The rest of their tenants were lawyers, bankers and management consultants. And I think what they were trying to say is that they were just very worried about what were doing. They didn’t know if it was legit.

Bharati: Did they think it was prostitution? 

Lim: I'm not sure. They didn't go so far, but they were just not very comfortable with us being on the same premises as the rest of their tenants. Finally, we managed to get an office though. Some people were more open-minded and we showed them that we were professionals. The next step was to tell people about what we do. So we wanted to advertise in the newspapers. We contacted all the various papers and they said we could advertise in the classifieds, but not in the main paper because traditional matchmakers advertised in the classifieds.

But we wanted to differentiate ourselves. The newspapers said they were worried that people will complain because at that point, there wasn’t any service like this and I guess maybe at the back of their mind they were not very sure it was about. They just wouldn't take the risk. But fortunately for us, there was a newspaper that actually took the risk. The salesperson told us that we could put in an ad, but not multiple insertions. They told us to put it out and see what happens. So it went out and the next day, we had a lot of calls from singles, but also a lot from other advertisers who asked us to advertise with them as well.

Bharati: Did you get the wrong kind of customers at first?

Lim: I think it was the way that we had positioned ourselves. So when we first came out, we went with a very copy-heavy ad. There were no images. As a result, the people who actually bothered reading the whole copy were the type of people who we were trying to attract. 

Bharati: When people were unwilling to lease you office space or advertise your service, did you ever think that a dating service in Singapore may not be such a good idea after all and that maybe you should abort your plan?

Lim: We had done the market research and we were confident that it could work. There were a lot of busy professionals who needed help meeting the right people. Some of them didn’t want others to know that they were coming to us for help, but they would come. It was interesting. In our first office, the office door was actually opposite a pantry and we had one client who rang our doorbell and then went to wait at the pantry. He was actually hiding in the pantry.

Bharati: He didn't want to be seen entering your office.

Lim: Yeah. And even when we had success stories, it was very difficult for anybody to openly say, “We actually met through Lunch Actually." And in fact when I go for my clients’ weddings, I always try to keep a very low profile and just eat my dinner and hope that nobody would ask me what I do for a living. Because I'm just so worried once they ask me what I do, they would know how the couple met and I’m not sure if the couple would be ok with me telling others. So usually I just keep to myself and eat my own dinner. But I would say that now, people are getting a lot more open. Now we have people who send us their wedding photos, so if you go to our website, you will see there are actually quite a number of couples who are very happy for us to just put their wedding photos up.

I think there are actually two different hurdles to cross for singles.

The first hurdle is actually for them 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 to actually tell others that they are using a dating service, because I guess they just feel they shouldn’t complicate things. Others might have certain thoughts and might judge them thinking that they used a dating service because they are desperate. That has since changed and we positioned ourselves that way. It’s not for desperate people. It’s for busy professionals who may not have time to go out and socialise.


Bharati: Some might say matchmaking isn’t rocket science. Are dating agencies making it seem more complicated than it really is?

Lim: Our grandmothers have been doing it and maybe even our mothers, but I think in the modern world, people also realise that there are limits to what they can do in terms of their own social circle and what our families think may work for us.

Matchmaking is a soft skill. For example, even when we hire consultants nowadays, we look out for certain things. First, they must love people because, as dating consultants, they're talking to clients every day. They also cannot be judgmental, because many people from different walks of life come to us and they have their stories, they have their own criteria and preferences. So it’s very important for matchmakers to put aside their own judgment or their own thinking.

Even though you think this person is not suitable for you, it doesn't mean that this person is not suitable for someone else. Empathy and being a very good listener is very important. We usually always have a box of tissue paper in our consultation rooms because a lot of times, when our potential clients tell us about their life stories, they might get very emotional as well. Our consultants have to be very compassionate, very empathetic and be able to pick up unspoken cues.

So a person might be saying something, but they might feel something else. The consultants have to pick up on those cues and probe a bit more. So it’s these kinds of skills that help us know more about the person and eventually make the right match for them.

Bharati: Considering the influx of dating apps and dating sites, is there really a need for professional matchmakers? You have and app and a site in your stable as well.

Lim: I think there will always be a need for different business models. Some of our clients in the Lunch Actually model are CEOs, they are MDs of companies. They might not feel comfortable putting their photos on Lunch Click, which is our mobile app. They might feel awkward if someone else in their company sees their profile. So I would say there will always be a need for different platforms out there. And in fact all these new services that have come into the market have not eaten into the market share. I think the new apps and new services have actually broadened the market. But I think in Asia it's not easy to be a purely online dating service. 

Bharati: Why not?

Lim: Because I think in Asia, people still want a certain level of personal touch. They have misgivings about whether the online platforms alone work, or whether people they meet would be trustworthy. In the States and Europe, the online dating market is bigger than the offline dating market. We might get there one day when people have more trust in a completely online service. But right now, we're not there yet.

Bharati: Let's talk about some of the criticism that has been levelled at you over the years. Sometime this year, a few people said on online platforms that your services are too expensive – about S$500 a date. They said that you're also always trying to upsell the other services that you have. You explained then that some of the services cost a lot to deliver. But what do you have to say to the detractors who haven’t changed their minds in spite of your public explanation?

Lim: Of course if you have been in business long enough, there will be criticism. In terms of some of the criticisms we have gotten in terms of the price point, what we have said is that we do have many different services. We do have services where the price point is actually zero - that's our app. And we do have services where the price point goes up to maybe even S$10,000. That's our platinum service which is high-end matchmaking - head-hunting for love for high net worth individuals. So the different services are priced differently because of the time, effort and the service level that we give to our clients. There are options for our clients to choose what works for them.

STARTING DATING YOUNGER 

Bharati: You met your husband in university and a lot of your friends met their life partners while studying. To what extent do you think that is something that ought to be encouraged among young people - to start dating more from a young age?

Lim: I highly encourage that. The chances of you meeting someone else who is single is obviously a lot higher when you are studying. The setting is just different. When you're in university it’s just more natural. If this is a person you think you can get along with, you can just hang out together.

Personally I started dating quite young.

Bharati: At what age?

Lim: I started dating when I was 15, 16? I think that’s an advantage because now I do see some clients who have never dated. Some are in their 20s or 30s even. I think as a result of that, they might have a certain view of how relationships should be and that view unfortunately sometimes might be based on Korean dramas or Hollywood movies. That’s not very healthy. Some of them have unrealistic expectations and if their first few tries don’t work, they give up, not realising that it’s natural for these things to happen.

So I think if you have dated from a younger age, and your heart has been broken and you have picked yourself up, it’s different. You're more experienced and you know what to expect and what to look out for. There are people who share with me, "Oh, my parents always said that I need to focus on my studies first and then now that I've graduated, I need to focus on my career first. And when everything is kind of okay, then I’ll focus on my dating life.” So some people tend to compartmentalise their lives.

Bharati: So you think compartmentalising is wrong?

Lim: I would say that it doesn't need to be mutually exclusive.

Bharati: You said that people should start dating from young but parents might be worried that your focus will be diverted from your studies. They might also be worried that because you're not mature enough, there'll be premarital sex, there might be unwanted pregnancies, or you may not know how to cope with a break-up or even an abusive relationship. These are valid concerns, wouldn’t you say?

Lim: I think it's not easy. Those are very valid concerns, but I think at the same time, they need to take a first step. My parents always treated me as a friend. As a result, I was more open to sharing with them my thoughts and what was going on in my life. In fact when I started dating, they said, "I want to get to know your boyfriend" rather than, "why are you dating?"

I think parents need to overcome their fears and have a balance.

DATES AS A COMMODITY AND MARRYING FOR THE WRONG REASONS

Bharati: The trend is many people are staying single or they're marrying later in life. We’re also seeing a rise in divorce rates. Why do you think this is happening in our society, in particular in spite of the proliferation of dating services? Have such services failed?

Lim: To be fair, it’s something that's happening all across the world especially in terms of the more modern and advanced societies. In terms of people getting married later and later, I think it’s associated with what we just talked about - people are just focusing on their careers. But the other important thing in terms of dating is, in the past, if you met five to 10 people of the opposite gender within a week or within a month, it was actually considered quite a good number. But now, with so many dating apps out there, it’s actually very easy to meet five to 10 people within a night just by swiping. I feel that online dating has made dates a commodity. As a result, people are taking it for granted and taking their time, so maybe that's why people are also getting married later and later.

And in terms of the people getting divorced, I would say that there are a few reasons. So from what I've observed with my friends or people that I know, the first one is sometimes people just get married for the wrong reasons.

I know of someone who told me that out of 10, her comfort level with a particular guy was maybe six or seven, but she said that she would go ahead and marry him because he ticked all the boxes in terms of the five Cs, etc. She also said, “I've already invested two years of my life in this guy and I don't think I can start over again.”

Bharati: But her comfort level with him was only a six!

Lim: Yeah. So if you hear her putting it this way, it sounds logical for a business deal, but for your lifelong happiness like a marriage, it doesn't really make sense.

Bharati: Did it last?

Lim: No, it didn't.

Bharati: How long were they together?

Lim: A couple of years. Someone else shared with me that she was having second thoughts, but she went ahead with it because she just really wanted to move out of her parents’ house.  Sometimes it’s like, “Really? These kinds of things happen?"

The sad thing is they do. Sometimes people just marry for the wrong reasons. I have friends who, after a couple of years in the marriage, are always leaving the house early and coming home late. It’s not that they're doing funny things.

Bharati: They're not having an affair.

Lim: No, they're not. But they say, "I don't know what to say to my wife. We don’t have much in common." So I ask why they got married. They’ll say, "Oh, she's quite attractive." So it’s passion as a result of physical attraction, but not much else. They don’t marry people they have common values with and at first, it seems okay but after a while, it creates tension. And after a while they just couldn't take it anymore.

For example, someone who is very family-oriented must have dinner with his parents every day, but maybe his wife says, "I don't need to see my parents for three years. It’s perfectly fine." After a while, it’s going to create a lot of problems.

Bharati: Because she won't understand why you need to see your family every day.

CLIENTS’ UNREALISTIC EXPECTATIONS

Bharati: Even in terms of finding a match in the first place, I understand there are challenges in terms of managing expectations. So how do you ensure that the people you match have a high chance of making it – not just in terms of getting married, but actually making the marriage last?

Lim: There are challenges in matching. Usually, the women who come to us are in their mid-30s to late 30s, and chances are, they will be looking for guys who are around their age or maybe just slightly older. So we're talking about guys in their late 30s or early 40s. And the problem is that this group of guys is also the so-called most sought-after group of guys because they're successful, they're established and they're more confident and mature. Even women who are in their late 20s are open to dating this group of guys. So this group of guys have a lot of options.

Bharati: But the women don't.

Lim: There's also a challenge for guys. So we have ladies coming to us who say, "If you're going to match me with a guy who is 42 or 45 years-old and above, I'd rather you match me with someone who has been married before." He’s now legally divorced and might have kids, but it’s better that he has been married before than if he hasn’t. They say, "If he’s that age and he has never been married before…”

Bharati: Something must be wrong. In your experience, is that true?

Lim: I wouldn't say it’s 100 per cent true, but I think the challenge with guys is that if they have been single for such a long time, it’s very difficult for them to change their habits. So they could still be living with their parents, or maybe they have moved out and they're living on their own and they might have certain habits that they have formed over the years – activities that they are happier doing alone. They're looking for people who would understand certain idiosyncrasies.

LOOKING BEYOND THE SUPERFICIAL

Bharati: I’m sure there are also others who fixate on the educational qualifications or economic status of their dates, or even men who are intimidated by strong women. How do you deal with the cases you mentioned earlier and all these other mindsets and preferences your clients may have?

Lim: How I deal with it is, really, to ask people to not just look at superficial criteria, and look deeper into ultimately what would make you happy in a marriage. We understand why some clients might be fixated on education or the economic status of their future partners. We do take our clients' preferences and criteria when it comes to making suitable matches. However, we would also share with them matches who might not meet exactly the preferences they are looking for, but would be good matches for them based on compatibility of values.

Many times, our clients would be open to our feedback and sharing, and give it a chance by meeting up with the person. However, for prospective clients who decline, sometimes, we would not even ask them to sign up with us because it might be difficult for us to find them the right match.

For men who are intimidated by strong women - from our observation, for men who prefer women who are less aggressive or assertive - it is quite difficult to persuade them otherwise. Men who like strong women tend to share upfront that they would like to be matched with these strong women. Ultimately, I think all strong women also have a softer and gentler side, especially when they have found someone whom they feel they are comfortable with and someone they can lean on. The challenge for many strong women is when to let down that "defensive wall" and let someone in.

Bharati: Do you still have people coming to you with height requirements and other such things?

Lim: Yes, all the time. People will be like "Okay, I'm looking for someone who is this tall." If you ask them why, they don't even know. They might tell you something like, "Oh, because I like to wear high heels.”

But the truth of the matter is that they just feel that height signals that this person is stronger and this person can protect me. But if you ask them, "Protect you from what? We’re not living in caveman days. There's no lion or whatever hunting you, right?” – they have nothing to say.

It’s just something that's sort of programmed in them. For guys, if you ask them, "Why do you like girls with long hair? What's wrong with girls with short hair?" They really just don’t know why.

So how do I deal with it? It takes a lot of work and it takes a lot of patience. I have to convince them that they shouldn't just be choosing based on superficial characteristics. For example, if a guy is tall, it doesn't mean that he's going to be a good husband or a good father. There’s no correlation at all.


Bharati: You mentioned finding matches for clients based on a compatibility of values. How do you convince them to put aside the so-called superficial criteria?

Lim: We do ask them what they're looking for in terms of physical attributes and profile attributes. We do ask those questions because we are realistic as well. We know that we cannot just match them up with someone whom they would not be attracted to at all. But we focus on values ultimately and many of them, after meeting a few people, start to realise what’s important. Interests and hobbies are also just a good-to-have, but not a must-have. So for example, just now we talked about family values - do they value family as important. For some people, it would be their religion. Then there are others who talk about self-improvement. So some are quite happy with the status quo, but others are self-improvement junkies, so they want you to be as ambitious as they are.

Bharati: What do you do with clients who may have unhealthy relationship patterns and baggage?

Lim: Under the Lunch Actually Academy, we offer coaching services. The role of our coach is to understand our clients' current situation, where they would like to be and help them address that gap. We do not delve too much into their past. If we identify that they might need therapy, we would refer them to professional counsellors or therapists.

Bharati: You're in several Asian markets. We talked a lot about the Singaporean client. Are there marked differences between us and some other Asian cultures?

Lim: I would say in terms of criteria, it's more or less the same. But there are slight differences in the way people date. So what we've realised that in Singapore or Hong Kong, where the pace is faster, people tend to make decisions faster as well. So they are more likely to, after a first date, decide not to go on a second date with the same person, because they just feel that it just didn't work, so I'm not going to waste my time.

But in some other countries like Malaysia, they are more willing to give it a chance and go on a second date, or a third date to see whether there might be chemistry eventually. And we do encourage people to do that, because we say that honestly, very rarely would people have love at first sight. It usually takes a bit longer to get to know each other better.

KEEPING HER OWN MARRIAGE GOING

Bharati: We discussed off-air that you do face challenges in your marriage too and because you run your business with your husband, the work stress filters into the home. In the last few years, you spend less time together than in the first few years of your marriage. But because you’ve read so much about relationships in your work, you’re able to apply solutions to deal with the problems in your marriage. Do you feel a lot of pressure to keep your marriage going considering the industry you work in?

Lim: I think people cop out too early. They think there are just too many problems, it’s just not working out and they should just move on, but what I've realised is that I think every marriage has different stress points. It’s just about how much they want to work on it. I don't see it as a pressure. I see it separately. Of course I believe that it’s very important to have a happy marriage, but I don’t have a happy marriage because of my business.

Bharati: If work gets in the way and you had to choose between making the business work versus making the marriage work?

Lim: I think for us our marriage always comes first. So for example if we come to a point where we feel that we cannot work together anymore because there's just so much tension, we'll always put the marriage first. So if we can't work together, then one of us will just leave the business so that we can keep our marriage. I believe marriage is the cornerstone of a lot of things. We have a family. I have two kids. My son is 10. My daughter is seven. So I think it’s important that we have a happy marriage because if we do not have a happy marriage, it might impact on them eventually. Because of our unsuccessful marriage, they might end up thinking marriage is all bad. They might not want to get married in the future.

Bharati: Do you think high divorce rates might impact future generations of Singaporeans in that way too?

Lim: I think it usually works two ways. People who come from either broken families, or families where the parents' marriage was not that good, either end up being like their parents, or they just go the other way. They want to do whatever it takes to not end up in the same place as their parent. This is also something that I have thought a lot about.

I feel that a lot of things in life, we don't learn about. In school, we learn Math, English and Science. But life skills like how do you make sure that you have a good marriage? Nobody teaches this. So where do we learn this? We learn it from our parents. If our parents do not have a happy marriage, then where do we learn it? Or how do you be a good parent? Again, they don't teach us that in school. You have to then look at how our parents have been parenting us. And again, what if our parents have not been good parents?

Bharati: I mean of course now, there are marriage preparation classes and parenting classes you can take, but how else do you think such life skills can be learnt?

Lim: I think there are various ways of doing it. One of the things I think the Government has done is to start having classes in schools, in JCs, in polys to help them to be more confident and to understand relationships better. But I think for the rest of us, it's really about becoming good role models and mentors. In my work I have been privileged and honoured to be able to share at workshops, at different platforms. As a ripple effect, I hope these people would then share things they have learnt with others and live it in their own lives so that their children can learn too. 

“INNOVATION IS NOT A CHOICE – IT’S A NECESSITY”

Bharati: Let's talk about some of your business challenges today. A lot is changing in the dating scene. There are so many online platforms and apps. You seem to be making an effort to keep up. What do you have to do to make it work?

Lim: When we first started the business, we knew that it wasn't going to be just lunch dating even though that was what we started out with. Our vision from day one was very clear. We wanted to be the most effective dating service. The most effective dating service might be different things for different people. And we also realized that it might change. In the last 12 years, the internet became a lot more pervasive and smartphones did too. We knew we had to move with the times, and we were, and still are very okay to create products or services that might even compete with our own existing products. So when we first came up with Esync, there was actually an uproar in our company.

Bharati: Your staff felt you were cannibalising your own business?

Lim: Exactly. It was lower-priced and people could look at photos and decide on dates. But we were very adamant about it, backed it up with data and explained the vision of being an effective dating service and went ahead with it. Ultimately, it all worked out well. It’s not about the product. It's about what clients want. It’s always about being on the ground, doing surveys, talking to singles, looking at the big trends in the market, and seeing what clients want. And at that point, if that's what clients wanted, then we needed to come up with something that would serve our clients. So if for some people the most effective dating service is online, then we need to create a new product. 

And honestly I think if we don't come up with this product, someone else will. So it’s better that we own it than if someone else owns it. So we constantly challenge ourselves this way.

Bharati: Some businesses find doing this extremely challenging still and seem unwilling to do it.

Lim: I think it has to come from the top. It's really the mindset. So if the boss is still quite happy to stick with status quo, or he or she feels it's owed to them because they've done so well and it'll always be there, then I'm sorry, eventually it won't work out. Someone else will replace you as the market leader, or the business might fail. I think people don't have a choice. Businesses are being disrupted every single day. If you still want to be around, you need to constantly innovate and you have to constantly disrupt yourself.

Bharati: But the courage to do it is quite hard to muster. Would you say for you, it's been quite easy and quite natural to even expand overseas? 

Lim: I think it has to do with how we started the business. We knew from day one that we could not just be in Singapore because we are in a very, very niche industry. We knew that we couldn’t survive just by being in Singapore alone. We’ve never thought that we are courageous to expand overseas. We just thought it was necessary. So rather than worrying about whether we can do it, we worked on how we were going to do it.

Bharati: Technology and innovation might be necessary, but you did a survey recently that showed technology is actually putting a strain on dating.

Lim: Of course we are a strong believer that technology is an enabler, and that's why we started an online dating site and a mobile dating app. But people do say that as a result of chatting online with prospective dates, they end up not meeting many people. And I thought that was very interesting, because the whole objective of having technology is to maybe help you to meet up faster, or meet more people. But it turned out that because a lot of people would end up chatting before they even met up, they ended up not meeting up.

Bharati: They eliminate people whom they think they may not want to get to know better. Isn’t that better? It’s a more efficient way of identifying better prospects.

Lim: It's good and bad. I think sometimes how people chat may not be how they are in real life. Because chatting takes away a lot of elements of communication. What you type and how I interpret might be completely different. For us, we have killed chat on all our dating platforms. Our clients are not allowed to chat with one another before they meet up because we feel that the best way to judge whether this is a right match is to give yourself a chance and give the other person a chance to present themselves through all senses. Don’t judge so quickly. Just because this guy or girl comes across as boring online, it doesn't mean that when you meet up in person, it's not going to work out.

WHAT FUELS HER BUSINESS SUCCESS

Bharati: We talked about innovation earlier, but what is your overall business philosophy?

Lim:  I would say it comes down to three things: Innovation, openness, and growth.

So I think we've talked quite a bit about innovation. In terms of openness, everybody in our company actually sits in an open office, including myself. We are very transparent with our associates. We are very happy to share numbers, and everybody has direct access to me. It was much easier in the past when we had 10, 20 people. Currently, we have about 110 staff, but I always still do the orientations myself. I do the townhalls every quarter and everybody at any point, can just come directly to me rather than having to go through the hierarchy. The third element is growth - growth not just in terms of growing our company revenue, but also a very strong sense of growth for our associates.


So for example, when people come to us for job interviews and they say that eventually they want to do part-time studies, some companies might say that maybe they shouldn't hire this person because maybe this person will not be as focused on their career. But we are very supportive and we actually like people who want to learn and grow.

If people are only fixated on the status quo, they won't be able to survive very long in our company because our company is constantly changing. People often think of us as a start-up even though we’ve been around for more than 10 years. And I think it's really because we have the attitude, mindset and energy of a start-up. This is what helps us succeed. We don’t have a lot of processes and bureaucracy. In fact, one of the things I do every week is one-on-ones with my direct reports and I'm really there to just help them cut through bureaucracy if they see it as an obstacle. I want to support them, help them work faster and better.

“NEVER REGRET YOUR FAILURES”

Bharati: Any regrets over the years?

Lim: I don't look back and think “what if?” I will just make the best out of whatever happens next and then make the next decision.

Bharati: You’ve had failures over the years though. For instance, your expansion to Taiwan didn’t work out. What went wrong?

Lim: A few things - after our first few expansions worked out well, I think we got a bit complacent. So we did not do thorough research. We went into the market a bit blind. We couldn't localise as fast as we needed to. When we entered Taiwan, what we didn't realize was that there was no such concept as dating there. There were either web sites for making friends, or there were strictly marriage agencies. People didn't understand what we were trying to do. We were not ready to enter a new market where we had to create an entirely new category. We tried for a year, but we couldn't penetrate the market so finally, we decided to retreat. It was a very tough decision and it was also a very humbling experience.

Bharati: But you wouldn't describe it as something you regret?

Lim: No. Never regret your failures. Of course we lost money and the money that we invested there could have gone into some other market or even into our existing markets, but no, I wouldn't say it's something I regret. It was definitely a failure, but it's something I've learnt from. It made us better when it comes to expanding to new markets. 

Bharati: Who or what would you say is your biggest influence?

Lim: My parents. They gave me a lot of opportunities when I was young. They actually allowed me to fly from Malaysia to Canada to visit my aunt on my own when I was just 11 years old. I think things like that have really helped me build my independence. Being a parent myself now, I just cannot fathom the kind of emotions that were going through their minds - the worry and anxiety of having their child out there alone. They also sent me overseas to the UK to study when I was just 16.

So I think their courage to encourage me to be independent and to really let me be who I want to be, and always being very supportive, helped me a lot. They let me make my own decisions and also let me fail. For example, they were not very happy when I decided not to be a lawyer. After that, I said I was going to quit my job to start this business which was uncharted territory. But in spite of how they felt, they held back and didn’t stop me. They could have been discouraging about it, but they held back.

They have always been very supportive of my dreams and always encouraged me to pursue whatever I wanted to.