This month’s That Mama is Violet Lim, the brains behind one of Asia’s leading online dating services, Lunch Actually
One of the staple questions in our ongoing That Mama series is Do you have any tips for keeping the romance alive in your relationship? This month’s That Mama, Violet Lim, is uniquely qualified to answer the question: she’s the founder of Lunch Actually, a popular online dating service that sets busy professionals up on lunch dates. After founding Lunch Actually in Singapore back in 2004 with her then-fiance (now husband), Violet has expanded the business across Asia to cities including Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong, Jakarta and Bangkok. Along the way she’s had two kids — Corum, 12 and Cara, 9. Not only does Violet provide ace advice for maintaining a marriage, but she’s also got lots of concrete tips on balancing work and family life. She is one impressive boss lady!
Can you tell us a little about yourself, your career and your family?
I’m Violet Lim, the CEO and Co-Founder of Lunch Actually Group and our latest product, the world’s first blockchain-powered Relationship Registry and Love AI, Viola.AI.
I started Lunch Actually Group in 2004 with my then-fiance-now-husband, Jamie Lee, in Singapore. Jamie and I got married in 2005, and we had our children Corum and Cara in 2006 and 2009, respectively.
Can you talk us through your career pre- and post-baby?
I would say, for me, my life completely changed in 3 years: year 1 – I quit my job and became an entrepreneur, year 2 – I got married, year 3 – I became a mother. When Corum was born, I was fortunate to have a strong support system at both work and at home, with an extended family always willing to lend a hand, a team at work that understood my mummy duties, and of course a supportive husband who was willing to share childcare duties such as changing diapers and so on.
During my pregnancy and even during my maternity leave, I was very present with Corum and I’d say I had very little stress due to work. One of the advantages of being an entrepreneur is definitely having my own working time, and I could spend time working from home while still being with my kids.
How did you get back into the swing of things after having kids?
As an entrepreneur, it is hard to take four months of maternity leave. For both my kids, I more or less went back to work almost immediately. In fact, I flew to KL for a media interview during the confinement month after I gave birth to Cara. I’m very blessed to have a strong support system, as without them, there is no way I could have done what I did. My husband Jamie is super hands-on and would always help with the kids when I had to attend important meetings, and when I had to go back to work, my parents, my in-laws and my helper were always there to help with the kids as well.
How do you maintain an identity separate from your children?
This is an excellent question, and for me, as much as I love my kids and I love spending time with them, I think it is important that I do have a separate identity. I believe that by continuing to pursue my work as well as my passions, I am also setting a positive example for my kids, especially my daughter, that it is possible to have it all — a career and at the same time a fulfilling marriage and happy family.
As someone who wears a lot of hats (as I’m sure is the case for many other men and women with families and careers), it’s important to be able to ‘compartmentalize” and be aware of the roles we play at different times.
For me, I have my calendar that I use to put down all my plans and schedules, including personal and family plans. I color-code my calendar; for example, yellow for travel, red for media interviews, blue for my ‘extracurricular’ activities outside of work (I’m an active member of Entrepreneurs’ Organization Singapore), and green for family time (including date nights with Jamie, weekends plans with the kids, etc). This way, at a glance I’m able to see the amount of time I spend for each role that I play, and I make sure that I have a balance for all those roles.
How has having kids changed the way you define work?
I think it’s the same, before and after having a child. If anything, it inspires me even more to help singles to find their partners, so that they can experience the happiness that I feel.
How do you save time? What are your organisational tricks and tips?
Work-wise, one of the things I have learned as an entrepreneur is to learn to let go, to delegate tasks to my team leaders, and to let them learn and grow.
We all have to start from somewhere. While it may be faster for me to do something by myself, that’s also because I have the experience to do so. And if I never give them a chance to try, then they won’t ever have the experience to do it as well.
By delegating tasks to my associates in all countries and training them to be better at their job scopes, I also have the time to learn and challenge myself more. I also find myself learning from my associates as they grow with the company as well. I’m a strong believer in personal growth, and try to attend courses and seminars to help expand my knowledge and get new perspectives from other entrepreneurs who have gone down the same path.
I wish I had more time for…
Seeing my parents. My parents are based in Malaysia so I only get to see them once a month.
I always feel saner after….
Praying, doing my quiet time, and spending time with my family.
What part of Singapore do you live in? What do you like about it?
I stay in the Novena area, which is relatively central. I love it because it’s very convenient to get anywhere. It is central, but at the same time, there is a sub-urban feel. Plus, there’s the kids-friendly mall United Square within walking distance and a lot of nice dining places around!
Favourite kid-friendly activity in Singapore?
I recently took my daughter and her friends out to Adventure Cove in Resorts World Sentosa for her 9th birthday. It was definitely a memorable day for all of us. We also like to go to Parkland Green, East Coast Park to get sunlight and exercise in as a family.
Favourite kid-friendly restaurants in Singapore?
It’s easy to bring Corum and Cara out to any restaurant as they are now older. In the past, I liked to bring them to Marché at 313 Somerset as there’s a play area that they enjoy, as well as kids-friendly food as well. I have heard that Open Farm Community near Dempsey is extremely kid-friendly for people with younger kids.
Favourite family-friendly holiday spot in Asia?
For our last family holiday, we went to Langkawi. The beach is great and the kids even had a chance to “plant rice”.
Do you have any tips for keeping the romance alive in your relationship?
- 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. Do something together or learn something new together will help to keep the sparks alive.”
- Schedule time to be together: Calendar in your couple time. Do not leave it to when you are free. Chances are, you never will 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 should 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!
Favourite date night restaurants?
Actually, my husband Jamie and I like hawker food. So we spend a lot of our date nights just at one of our favourite food courts or local restaurants. We usually go to Newton Food Court, Wee Nam Kee and Mr Prata.
Do you have any tips for working mamas in Singapore?
It can be hard to juggle both work and kids. I sometimes feel guilty about doing so, wondering if I could be a better mother if I wasn’t so busy with work. I am sure all working mothers have this same guilty feeling.
However, I truly believe that my children will benefit from seeing their mother as a happy and hardworking go-getter who is making her own dreams come true, and it will be the same for your children as well.
With a fast-growing regional business, I have to travel a lot. What I do is to make sure that I spend quality time with my children, and when I with them, to be 100% present and 100% engaged. I make it a point to put aside my phone and other mobile devices so I can sit down and listen to what is going on in their lives.
I also have regular one-on-one date days with them. And recently, now that they are older, I organise annual mother-and-son trip as well as mother-and-daughter trip with them where they will come along with me on one of my work trips, and on the last day, we’ll sightsee or do something fun together.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received as a parent?
My parents are strong role models in how I decide to parent. This isn’t a piece of advice that I’ve received, but from watching my parents I’ve learned that a happy marriage is the cornerstone to a happy family. This is why for Jamie and I, we always make time to nurture and grow our relationship by having honest communication, going on regular dates and annual couple trips.
Give us your essential new mama advice that might never occur to other women.
As new mothers, we get so many different types of advice from different people, often well-meaning. How long you should breastfeed, what type of diaper you should use, whether you should co-sleep… the list is endless. There is no absolute right or wrong. Different things work for different people. Take the advice, use what works for you, and discard the rest. Do not feel bad, and don’t let anybody make you feel like you are a bad mother. Just like every child is different, every mother is different as well. As long as it works for you, you are happy with the decision, just go with it. The best mama a child can have is a happy mama.
As a mama I wish I were better at…
Staying calm and not raising my voice when my children are testing my patience.
What’s your favourite family ritual?
Our annual family trip where it’s just the four of us spending time together 24/7. It’s our best time to bond, play together and to create lasting memories as a family.
I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about…
I usually sleep very well and do not really wake up in the middle of the night! If I did, it’d probably be jet lag.
My favourite moment of the day is…
Curling up together with my husband Jamie on our sofa, enjoying a hot cup of tea and just catching up on our day.
Thanks so much Violet, Corum and Cara for sharing your time with us! And a huge thank you to superstar photographer Irina Nilsson for the gorgeous-as-ever snaps!