#Asia This dating app killed chat so you can talk in real life


lunchclick screenshot

For hookups, there’s Tinder. But for serious relationships, there isn’t an obvious go-to app, especially in Asia. LunchClick is an up-and-comer hoping to fill that gap, and it has an unconventional approach.

It takes a few hours for you to go from downloading the app to actually using it. That’s because every profile is exhaustively verified by humans to keep out creeps, fakers, and scammers. Users are nudged to include detailed information about themselves, and they must upload real personal photos (cat pics won’t do).

If you’re married, LunchClick keeps you out, unless you can supply your divorce or annulment papers. In Singapore, the app even requires you to key in your identification number, so that it can check against a national marriage database to make sure you’re single.

LunchClick lets you “like” other singles and set up dates. But in a huge departure from the online dating world, you can’t engage in small talk via in-app chat. There’s no endless swiping either, as you only get one match a day.

lunchclick screenshots

These measures sound extreme, but if you’re singularly focused on finding a long-term partner, it could be a boon. Chats sometimes result in awkward conversations that sink into silence.

“You just say hi to each other, and then after that ask ‘What are you doing?’, and then it goes downhill from there. Because the chat itself is not very interesting, people would end up not going out, even though if they have had met in person, it would have worked out,” says Violet Lim, CEO of Lunch Actually, the Singapore-headquartered company behind the app.

“Through chat, you don’t really get to know each other very much, because you just end up talking about very everyday, very mundane things. Some people don’t even know what to talk about. So that was the reason we took chat out of the equation.”

Instead of stilted small talk, LunchClick devised a Q&A-style interaction where matches take turns asking questions chosen from a predefined list. These questions touch on interests, values, opinions, and aspirations. Also, limiting the number of profiles you receive forces users to look beyond appearances and evaluate people in their totality.

Once singles express a mutual interest to meet, they can arrange a date. LunchClick recommends restaurants and cafes, and reservations can be made within the app.

It’s all about ushering people as efficiently as possible towards real-world interactions. “With chat it’s not multi-faceted […] you’re not seeing his body language, you’re not seeing her facial expressions,” says Violet, arguing that offline dates are the best way to find out if someone’s a match.

Put a ring on it

If you’re new to Lunch Actually, LunchClick’s approach might sound novel. But it’s an extension of the company’s philosophy.

Violet and her husband Jamie Lee launched Lunch Actually in 2004 as a professional dating agency pairing busy professionals for lunch dates. They then started online dating site eSynchrony, where singles fill out their profiles, then get assigned to consultants who’ll arrange dates for them.

LunchClick carries on that tradition of focusing on serious daters. But for users, it’s the most affordable – and time-intensive – of the company’s products, requiring daters-to-be to update their own profiles and arrange dates themselves.

The most you’d pay is a couple hundred US dollars for an in-app Love Assistant. It dishes advice and gives you matches handpicked by a human consultant, which Violet says still beats the computer.

At the other end of the spectrum you have Lunch Actually, a service that costs thousands but requires the least legwork on the from users. All you need is to spend a couple of hours with a staff, and then everything gets arranged for you. eSynchrony is the middle-of-the-road option.

While Lunch Actually serves older singles with little time and high incomes, LunchClick targets the younger set who are not in a rush to get hitched. LunchClick is still making a small percentage of the company’s revenue, which totalled S$5 million (US$3.55 million) in 2014.

But it’s growing through many revenue streams. The Love Assistant is one. It also charges entry fees for singles meetup events, and will soon make money from restaurant booking fees, in-app purchases, and a gifting feature where you could buy flowers for your date, for example.

Seeking a new marriage

lunch actually team

The Lunch Actually team.

Lunch Actually is a steady ship, with annual revenue growing 30 to 50 percent in the past two years. The growth leads Violet to say it is the leading dating company in Southeast Asia.

But Paktor, another dating app from Singapore, would have something to say about that. Starting out as an app in Tinder’s mold, the venture capital-funded startup seemed to have shifted toward serious dating, launching offline singles service GaiGai. Yet it still retains the youthful and playful vibe, as well as the swiping and chatting.

“A majority of GaiGai’s clients fall between the ages of mid-20s to mid-40s – the mid-income masses – reflecting the growing demand for personalized dating services in Singapore in this age group. Lunch Actually targets the higher income,” says Paktor co-founder Charlene Koh.

The Paktor app itself is perhaps its most powerful asset with its 6 million registered users, which can be used as a marketing channel for GaiGai.

Paktor and LunchClick are, in fact, going after the same age group with vastly different approaches. The competition to capture this audience could get intense. Winning the battle is particularly crucial for Lunch Actually, because a failure to win over the Tinder generation could be a long-term threat to its business.

That’s why it’s seeking a marriage with investors, by raising a US$2 million round to grow LunchClick, which itself is a union of veterans Jamie and Violet with young enterprising talent in Wong Say Jon, Kenneth Lim, and Chua Chun Kiat, acquired earlier through a buyout of another dating app.

Like its customers, Lunch Actually is pining to be set up in some happy, long-lasting relationships.

LunchClick is one of the startups selected to participate in the upcoming Tech in Asia Arena pitch battle. Visit the Tech in Asia Jakarta conference on November 11 and 12 to see the pitch.

Do you prefer LunchClick, Paktor, or Tinder? Share your thoughts below.

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