The couple behind dating and matchmaking agency Lunch Actually is set to blaze another trail by marrying cryptocurrency and artificial intelligence (AI) in their latest venture, Viola.AI.
Co-founders Violet Lim and Jamie Lee plan to raise US$17 million (about S$22 million) in its initial coin offering (ICO) for this project, where the primary agent is an AI interface which will not only match potential couples, but also track their progress after they start dating. This means suggesting places for dinner, reminding them of dates, or giving advice on relationship problems.
In an exclusive interview with TODAY, Mr Lee said that it is “probably the first company in the world” to use AI and blockchain when providing dating and relationship solutions. Blockchain technology, in simple terms, allows for data to be coded, structured and managed to facilitate digital transactions.
The Lunch Actually team uses AI, called Viola, and feeds it 13 years of cumulative data that the agency has collected since its inception in 2004.
The system will then be “trained” on the 1.1 billion data points the company has, which includes customer preferences and feedback collected over the years, Mr Lee said.
When the platform is live, the AI will also keep “learning” with new information exchanged between users, through a community of people who contribute content or advice to others.
Users may use tokens to thank others for offering dating advice and suggestions.
The platform, which would provide matching services, may also be used for transactions, for example, to buy flowers for a date.
“It is a ‘Siri’ with empathy,” Mr Lee said. “What Viola can help you with are relationship-related questions, using the database.”
KEEP THE BUSINESS GOING
Calling itself the biggest matchmaking company in South-east Asia, Lunch Actually Group has matchmade around 3,000 successful married couples to date.
It has more than 1.4 million users in markets such as Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Hong Kong and Indonesia. In terms of the dating and relationship space, it has both online and offline presence, including its original dating service agency Lunch Actually off Orchard Road, as well as mobile applications LunchClick, esync, Indonesia’s Setipe and Thailand’s Available.
For Viola.AI, Mr Lee and his wife had wanted to create this platform one-and-a-half years ago, but it took time to make progress due to limited funds.
The business was also facing a “pain point”: The more effective it was at making successful matches, the fewer clients it could retain.
They wanted to have a product that could last and lead the couple from dating to marriage, thus solving the “problem”.
In the process, they took notice of cryptocurrencies, and realised that the credits system they wanted to build in Viola was essentially similar.
Mr Lee said: “When we merged both concepts, the idea of Viola became better: The encryption, protection of data, and real ID solutions.”
Taking part in the cryptocurrency market, which is decentralised, also means the project can go global, which further aligns with the business’ goals, he added.
MINIMISING FAKE ACCOUNTS, SCAMS
Among the “currencies” available, the blockchain technology from Ethereum was chosen because the couple liked that it had the most economies of scale, is an established cryptocurrency, and it deals with smart contracts.
Ethereum is a platform that is built specifically for creating smart contracts, which are programmable coding to facilitate, verify, enforce or store any kind of information into the blockchain.
Adapting it for Viola.AI would help to address the concern over fake online profiles and scams, which is a bigger issue in South-east Asia than it is in the West, Mr Lee noted.
The app would verify the accounts by taking a real-time video scan of the user’s face and checking it against the person’s social media accounts before approval. These would be stored on the blockchain.
A token on Viola.AI is now priced at US$0.20.
The group, which launched its pre-sales in mid-December for its ICO, has already hit its soft target of US$1 million. Its public sale will be in March, and it aims to raise a final target of US$17 million.
By May, it hopes to have a viable product to launch.
To build on the tech-intensive business, Viola.AI has its own chief technical officer, and about 10 people are involved in developing the IT and blockchain, including external vendors.
On standards set by the Monetary Authority of Singapore for cryptocurrencies, Mr Lee said that the group has sought legal advice on the offering, and sees the product as more of a utility for goods and services.
Being an early adopter of digital technology does have its risks. In 2007, Lunch Actually launched its first online dating site called Eteract, which was not a success. “To get 10,000 users then was so difficult,” Mr Lee recalled. The market then was not ready.
Still, he is confident that their latest brainchild has the potential to change the industry.
Cryptocurrencies are “built to last” and “not a fad”, he said. “We feel that cryptocurrency has a positive future. There will be ups and downs…Even if there is a correction, we (will) survive it, (because) we have a real business behind it.”
He added: “I guess the story is that we should never stop improving what we can offer to society. We should not be fearful to keep up with the times even if it disrupts your business. Viola.AI can disrupt my business, but if it does a better job, we should not be afraid to challenge something that is old.”
Source : ICOnow