5 lessons from the matchmaking business
August 19, 2011 by Terence LEE
Violet Lim and Jamie Lee are in the business of connecting aspiring lovebirds. While matchmaking has existed for decades, the couple modernized the trade for the Internet era. After starting Lunch Actually in 2004 and Eteract in 2007, they founded eSynchrony, a website which matches singles through an algorithm that looks at 15 areas of compatibility.
Their success was why we brought them to our monthly Chillin’ With event on August 15, where we connect about 20 or so people who love starting businesses. The venue was Martell’s The Ultimate Startup Space at Boon Tat Street.
Photo: Jamie Lee and Violet Lim (center) with guests.
The conversation was rather lively, and questions for our special guests flowed as freely as the alcohol that night. The dynamic duo shared about their experiences starting and running the businesses, and their rationale behind the decisions made. We distill some lessons we’ve learnt from them.
1) Being innovative results in more media attention
Copying someone else’s business model, as in the case with most Groupon clones, is a surefire way of earning big bucks as long as you execute it right. But coming up with something original is a good way to maximize your mileage with the media. In Violet and Jamie’s case, they sought to differentiate Lunch Actually by modernizing matchmaking.
So instead of having old foogies sign up, Lunch Actually’s clientele consists of single and successful professionals with money to spend. They branded and priced their company to attract professionals. When they started their business, a package costs in the hundreds, and prices have been marked up three times since.
They also had to deal with negative perceptions towards matchmaking, which was (and to a lesser extent today) commonly viewed as an activity for single, desperate, and unwanted folks. But the extra effort needed to educate the masses also meant one thing: More media attention.
The couple learnt this lesson early when they traveled to New York to attend a weekend matchmaking course, prior to starting Lunch Actually. Singapore tabloid The New Paper got wind of this, and wrote a two page spread documenting their journey. Later on, as they start their various dating services, they have received coverage from publications all around Asia.
2) Hiring a PR firm may be more worth your marketing dollar than buying ad space
When it comes to marketing, the couple tried everything. When they started Lunch Actually, they advertised on the train, on television, and in the newspaper. But according to them, it was their PR agency’s efforts that generated the most buzz.
Entrepreneurs have to constantly think about a media angle that would interest journalists, for instance putting out data they might be able to use. That is where a PR agency comes in, since it’s their job to woo the media for you. While they may not be able to promise a certain amount of coverage, since editors are prone to kill stories when there’s breaking news, a good publicist can secure you a number of interviews.
It’s also important to find a PR agency that believes in what you do. “We went to a meeting once and some of them didn’t take us seriously. We knew there was no point engaging them,” said Violet.
3) Writing a blog is worth the investment in time
Violet writes about dating and relationship advice on her blog, and she finds it well worth the time and effort. Once the company expanded, it’s harder to give the personal touch to their clients. While they used to hold consultations with clients, they now leave it to their staff while they focus on the big picture.
Having the blog, therefore, is a good way to maintain that personal touch since it can reach out to thousands of readers. She gives plenty of practical advice on things like how to snag a great guy or how to manage one’s emotional baggage in a relationship. If possible, she tries to keep her posts timely. A good example would be her piece on 10 Love Lessons Learnt from General Election 2011.
In essence, she keeps her blog posts personal, sincere, and from the heart. There’s no point hardselling your products and services since readers expect very different things from blogs.
4) Matchmaking is more than just writing algorithms
There are two fundamentally different approach to matchmaking: Old-fashioned human connection versus new-fangled algorithms. While online dating websites tend to be dominated by the latter approach, Jamie and Violet believe in marrying both.
Violet remembers travelling to the US to attend an online dating conference. ”The language they spoke was totally different. All there talked about was ‘conversion’ and the best way to generate ‘conversion’.” At more traditional matchmaking meetups, they always talk about solving a client’s problems.
Their latest website, eSynchrony, demonstrates how both approaches can be harmonized as one. While the website uses a matching algorithm to pair potential partners, their calculations are actually based on the thousands of offline matchmaking they have done at Lunch Actually.
5) Making customers pay works for online dating services
While there are certainly free dating sites out there, Violet and Jamie believe getting customers to pay is actually the better business model. Unlike, say, a tech blog where pageviews are paramount, a dating website is all about customer experience and ensuring that a seeker does not encounter creeps or charlatans. Having a paywall ensures some quality control since it filters out users who are not serious about seeking a life partner.
At Lunch Actually, customers pay a premium for such a filtering process, since the matchmaking is entirely manual. This ensures that the potential partners are serious about relationships, which is something an algorithm can’t always predict. Both Eteract and eSynchrony also have price points, although they are set at a lower level than Lunch Actually.
Click here to read a past interview with Violet.
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About The Author
Terence LEE - Editor
Terence writes mainly about technology trends and startups in Asia. He believes in crafting smart content: Not just a regurgitation of text, but well thought-out pieces that serve the reader using a combination of data, design, narratives, analysis, and visual impact. His articles have been published on Venturebeat, Yahoo!, Straits Times, Today, and The Online Citizen. He also co-founded NewNation.sg, a satirical news site covering Singapore affairs. Engage him on LinkedIn and Twitter.Read other posts by Terence LEE