We spoke to the CEO & Co-founder of Viola.AI & Lunch Actually Group Violet Lim about starting business in Singapore, learning from failure and why there’s no such thing as bad advice. Read the interview below.
Location: Singapore About: MSc. from London School of Economics Experience: 14 years of experience in the matchmaking industry, CEO and founder of multiple online and offline dating projects in Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Thailand and Japan
Interviewer: Hi, Violet! In your own words, tell us about Viola.AI.
Violet Lim: Viola.AI is the world’s first blockchain-powered Relationship Registry & Love AI, which aims to restore trust & transparency in this $800b love industry. Viola.AI harnesses artificial intelligence and blockchain technology to develop a lifelong relationship advisor, and REL-Registry on the blockchain verifies each user’s identity through visual recognition, social media check and at the same time, ascertains their relationship status. Our goal is to eventually create the world’s largest single women database and give them the reassurance that the people they meet on Viola.AI are genuine singles who are real. On top of helping singles, Viola.AI can also help couples to sustain and improve their relationships through proactive reminders and relationships advice.
I: What pushed you to create Viola.AI?
VL: We have been in the singles market for the past 14 years. Our goal is to create 1 million happy marriages. If you think about it, singles may get together, but it’ll be very sad if their relationship ends up in a break-up or divorce. That’s why we’ve also come up with our coaching arm, Lunch Actually Academy, to really help clients beyond just dating. However, we wanted to make this coaching service more scalable, and with the advancement of technology through AI and blockchain, everything fell into place. And that’s how we came up with the concept of Viola.AI.
Viola.AI is the next logical step in the love industry that is viewed with skepticism due to romantic scams, catfishing, hookup culture, and also increasing relationships challenges. It’s a much-needed solution created to address and help overcome those hurdles in love. We can change the world, one relationship at a time, because with our 14 years of experience and AI we can help millions of people worldwide, no matter what relationship stage they are in.
“Very often people asked us, “Who are your ICO consultants?”, but the truth is, we are doing things ourselves without bringing in any consultants. The learning curve is steep…”
I: Apart from investors, who would be interested in your ICO?
VL: Singles and couples looking to improve their relationships, merchants selling romance-related lifestyle goods and services, as well as coaches and experts who want to share their expertise! The A.I. that we are building evolves from dating, couple-hood to marriage and ensuring that we always serve our users to the best of our ability, helping people find love, helping romance blossom, and helping sustain the relationship right till their twilight years.
Merchants and experts can also offer their goods and services to singles and couples through Viola.AI marketplace for extra revenue stream.
I: How is Viola.AI different from its competitors?
VL: Unlike our competitors, Viola.AI is created by Asia’s largest premier dating company, Lunch Actually Group. With 14 years of experience in the dating industry behind us, we have more than 1.1 billion data points, which is perfect for an AI engine to begin.
We are also different because Viola.AI is for both singles and people in relationships, which means it has a lifelong customer value. We want to make sure that we can help everyone have a long lasting, happy relationship by using an evolving love AI to help both singles and couples on their love journey.
I: How have you grown Viola.AI’s presence in the market?
VL: As a product, Viola.AI was conceived in 2017. We held our Public Sale from 17th June to 16th July 2018, and the Viola.AI MVP was recently released on Google Play Store. App Store users can join our mailing list now for first-hand update when the app is released! It’s coming very soon.
It was a big win when our Viola.AI Token Pre-Sale was closed 5 days early, as all 7,500,000 Tokens have been sold. After that we have partnered with MegaX to build an AI-driven worldwide shopping experience, as well as built partnerships with a number of lifestyle brands across Asia, and AI Singapore and Singapore Management University (SMU) to develop a robust AI matching & recommendations engine. We look forward to even more wins once Viola.AI is publicly launched.
“I think I am blessed to have started the business in Singapore. The government here is incredibly business-friendly.”
I: How does your team work? Do you use any specific techniques?
VL: We are a diverse team. Most of the team has gained clear insight into the dating industry with years of professional experience in Lunch Actually Group. Each of our unique experiences and expertise helped create and grow Viola.AI to greater heights.
I: What are the biggest challenges you’ve had to overcome as a company?
VL: Very often people asked us, “Who are your ICO consultants?”, but the truth is, we are doing things ourselves without bringing in any consultants. The learning curve is steep, and the team is super hard working to plan and execute the things that we are doing in this relatively new space. I’m so proud of my team, who have given it their all, and even when there were mistakes, I prefer to look at them as learnings, and focus on the solutions instead of dwelling on those challenges.
I: How was it starting a cryptocurrency and trying to take your company global?
VL: I think I am blessed to have started the business in Singapore. The government here is incredibly business-friendly and Singapore is a very conducive place for entrepreneurs. The government encourages entrepreneurs to start their businesses here, offering many grants and tax deduction options (such as StartupSG and the Angel Investors Tax Deduction scheme), so local startups have a good support system to launch and expand their business. That made it easier to build Viola.AI up, step-by-step.
As for taking Viola.AI global, there was a lot of concentrated effort by our Head of Community Management, Freddie, to recruit Community Managers in countries like Korea, Japan, England and more, to further boost Viola.AI globally.
Of course, PR is equally important for landing Viola.AI in the global spotlight, and our Head of PR Christina has managed to reach out to many media outlets and influencers all over the world to talk about Viola.AI.
I myself have travelled a lot this year, to cryptocurrency and other dating/tech-related events and awards, to talk about Viola.AI and why it will be a game-changer for the dating industry. Fortunately, Viola.AI has been well-received by most people I talked to.
“I believe in focusing on solutions, because challenges are bound to happen.”
I: What’s next for Viola.AI? What’s in the nearest future?
VL: We’ve just established a strategic partnership with AI Singapore, a Singapore government initiative, for Viola.AI to become the world’s first blockchain-based relationship-registry and love AI. AI Singapore will collaborate and assist Viola.AI in areas of AI Personality Matching.
Now, the team is focusing on product development to launch the features as per roadmap in our whitepaper.
I: Where would you ideally like to see yourself in 5 years?
VL: I hope to be known as the CEO and Founder of the world’s most well-known dating company, with offices in central locations all over the world. And, of course, to revolutionise relationships for the better with the company’s products. We definitely hope to help as many singles and couples as possible to have happy long lasting relationships!
I: If you had to give one piece of advice to a new entrepreneur, what would it be?
VL: Harsh as it might sound, not everybody is suited to be an entrepreneur. Some people become entrepreneurs to work shorter hours or to boss other people around. That may happen eventually, one day, but in the early days, you need to roll up your sleeves and get ready to put in very long hours, willing to do anything and everything to make the business succeed, and get paid for results and not for the hours put in.
My advice is to go into entrepreneurship with both eyes open, be ready to work harder than you have ever worked, stay humble, and always keep learning and improving.
I: Is there something you believe your team can do better than anyone else? What is your strength?
VL: Many people in my team have stayed in the company throughout the years, some having passed their three-, five-, and even ten-year anniversary. I like to think that spending all this time together made my team stronger and more cohesive. We’ve weathered all kinds of obstacles together. I believe in focusing on solutions, because challenges are bound to happen. It’s a lot more productive to work on overcoming those challenges than to dwell on them.
Our company culture is very unique too, we believe in our core values: Make it happen, Leave no man behind, Inspire the best in all, and Stay positive and never say die. I believe this is the team’s greatest strength and we strive to live up to these core values everyday.
“…People feel that if they fail then that failure sticks to them through everything they do. But if you take accountability for that failure and understand that this is just one small setback in a bigger journey, you’ll be able to bounce back and see it as a lesson.”
I: What is the skill you wish you or your team could perfect?
VL: I am not sure if there is anything we can “perfect”, there is always room for improvement in any skill. However, if I can truly become perfect at one skill, it would be the ability to accurately gauge who would make the perfect match for a single – to hone my matchmaker’s intuition to perfection.
Of course, there is no exact science to this, as it takes a certain amount of chemistry, the right attitude about love, and of course, the right timing for two singles to decide that they are right for each other at the same time.
I: What’s the best and worst advice you’ve ever been given?
VL: I take all advice I’ve been given in good faith, but if I have to the best and the worst… it’d probably be the same advice, actually, which is: “Don’t start a dating company“. When I first founded my company, Lunch Actually, in 2004 with my then-fiance Jamie Lee, we met a lot of resistance from well-meaning family and friends.
But, having helped so many couples find The One, this is an emotionally fulfilling job for me, despite the difficulties and obstacles in dealing with matters of the heart. I can really make a change in our clients’ lives and the impact is very tangible. It’s something I aim to do even more of on a larger scale when Viola.AI comes out.
To me, that advice is the best because it mentally prepared me to face the challenges of the dating industry head on, especially during a time when there was so much stigma attached to it. But 14 years later, as a thriving dating company with offices in five countries, it can also be considered the worst advice had I taken it back then. So I’m very glad I didn’t!
I: What is the most ridiculous advice you’ve heard from a colleague?
VL: At Lunch Actually, I always practice the belief, and keep reminding my associates all the time, that all questions, advice, and feedback are never bad or ridiculous, because ultimately, they may see things that we do not see. If we deem them as ridiculous or bad, they may be reluctant to speak up in the future and we may miss out on potential ideas that could would help us improve as a company.
I: Do you believe failure can make or break a person?
VL: Ultimately, it all depends on the person’s perception of failure. A lot of times people feel that if they fail then that failure sticks to them through everything they do, they take it too hard. But if you take accountability for that failure and understand that this is just one small setback in a bigger journey, you’ll be able to bounce back and see it as a lesson. It’s all about the resilience and mindset.
“I see success as a journey, not so much as a destination. To me it’s all about learning from the ups and downs and becoming a better version of myself through the process.”
I: How do you know when you’ve succeeded?
VL: I see success as a journey, not so much as a destination. To me it’s all about learning from the ups and downs and becoming a better version of myself through the process.
I: What is the best investment of money, energy and time for someone who’s trying to succeed?
VL: Public speaking and communication skills.
When I was doing my masters, I joined the Toastmasters club and invested time and money to do it. It was the best decision, and the training that I’ve gotten from it has yielded enormous results over the years of my entrepreneurship journey.
I: Do you have any weird or extraordinary habits? Any guilty pleasures?
VL: Recently, I started bringing two purple plush toys along when I travelled to other countries. They are gifts from my son for my birthday and Mother’s Day. Having them around makes my family feel closer, despite the geographical distance.
I: What’s the best decision you’ve made in the last 10 years?
VL: To set a very bold vision of growing our revenue to 5 times in 5 years! At that time (2011), it seemed impossible and my associates looked at me like I was crazy. However, because we were bold enough to set that target, we worked really hard, tracking every milestones, and we hit our goal!
I: What are the top 5 books you would say have influenced your life or your work ethic the most?
VL: Double Double: How to Double Your Revenue and Profit in 3 Years or Less by Cameron Herold.
Sam Walton: Made In America by Sam Walton and John Huey
Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki
Exponential Organization by Michael S. Malone, Salim Ismail, and Yuri van Geest
As a Christian, the Bible is also a huge source of encouragement, and a guide for my thoughts and actions.
I: What would you say is or has been your worst time-waster both at home and at work? Do you watch TV? If yes, what is your favourite TV show/movie?
VL: My favorite movie is Love Actually.
My worst time-waster is probably social media. But I’m not sure if I can call it that, because it’s a good way to learn what people in other industries are doing, as well as learn about new trends. But yeah, people shouldn’t spend hours just looking at their phones instead of making real connection with people around them.
I: How do you wind down after a stressful day? How does one achieve that perfect work-life balance?
VL: I try to have work-life integration, rather than a separation of work and life. I keep a schedule in which I make sure to have enough time for my four main pillars, which are work, family, self, and community. I try to be 100% present, and not let other factors affect the time I have set for these.
For example, I have 1-1 activities with my husband, son, and daughter every month, such as date nights and bonding activities. My associates have access to my calendar and know not to contact me during these times.
Generally I relax by spending time with my 2 young children, Corum and Cara, going on dates with my husband Jamie, reading, and catching up with friends.