Anisa, you have no idea how glad I am when you said ‘Yes’ to this interview. Firstly, can you tell us about Anisa Hassan, the lady?
In my professional capacity, I am known as the Corporate Cupid or the Love Guru for the role that I play as a professional matchmaker since 2004 and in my personal life, I am a person who values relationships above everything else. Growing up in a big family (having 16 other siblings that also include half-siblings), I love, cherish and honour my relationship with my family members. Almost every time when Hari Raya comes around, my siblings would check in to know if the celebrations and festivities will be held at my home since my 83-year-old mother is no longer able to cook up a feast for the family. I always look forward to family gatherings at my home because family ties need to be rekindled and reconnected ever so often. It’s always good to check in with one another because my view is everyone is always going through different stages of their lives and you’ll never know when you can extend a helping hand.
As a person, my friends describe me as a warm, down to earth individual who is very in touch with the common man. I care deeply about issues relating to my community, healthy ageing and entrepreneurship especially among women. Every year, I take about 2 weeks to be in the US to learn new things relating to a business or personal development.
You were a news anchor and then, moved on to be a producer, after which you get into entrepreneurship; such a colourful path, I have to say. What steered you towards each undertaking?
Graduating with an International Relations honours degree from the National University of Singapore, I took on the role of a journalist by virtue of the fact that I was a scholar with Singapore Press Holdings. Within 6 months of working, I was headhunted by then Television Corporation of Singapore (TCS) that was looking for a presenter/producer for a Malay Current Affairs programme. Within a year of being a producer, I was selected for a casting call to anchor the news programme for Channel NewsAsia. I was anchoring the Primetime Morning News for a few years before deciding to leave my profession altogether when my priorities changed. I became a first-time mother to a premature baby who needed much more of my time and this was a perfect segue for me to leave the limelight on a high while reflecting the best way forward as a mother as well as a career woman.
I remember the time reading about you starting up Its Just Lunch; that was circa 2004. What stirred-up your interest to set-up a dating agency catering to high-end individuals?
Knowing that I’m a people person, I was looking out for a career that would involve meeting and connecting with people but I was certain that I did not intend to go down the route of public relations, corporate communications, consulting or training. When my husband spotted the opportunity to start a matchmaking business in Singapore, he convinced me very quickly that this was a career I could build and be successful in, knowing my personality and the business concept would fit like a glove. We purchased the US franchise to operate in Singapore in July 2004 and became a household name almost overnight. Trained as a journalist, I discovered through my research that there was a gap in the singles’ market in Singapore and the government-led matchmaking agency was not attracting the professional segment very effectively. As such, we decided to take the plunge and create a space for singles to feel safe and comfortable, confiding their personal needs with a real matchmaker. Our business offered a low tech and high touch approach to dating that attracted the attention of professional singles who were never married, divorced and widowed. In fact, the first wedding I attended was within 6 months from when we launched the business and it was between two individuals who were married before.
You were amongst the first one, if not the first one, to set up a dating agency for affluent individuals in Singapore, how was the general reception at that time?
Yes, you could say that we were among the pioneers that set up private dating agencies in Singapore catering for upscale professionals. The response was very positive because we were very focused on our target market. We had a clear business and marketing plan, targeting the smart single professionals and almost 95% of our clients were graduates and close to 65% had advanced degrees. What was interesting to note was we became very popular among clients who were divorced and widowed who felt that we provided them with a safe and dignified platform to start dating again.
Can you tell us a little about Date High Flyers and how different is it from Its Just Lunch?
Date High Flyers (DHF) is a luxury matchmaking service for professionals who have marriage in mind. Unlike the previous set up, DHF attracts serious singles who are committed to having a long-term relationship, leading to marriage. They are no longer interested in just meeting and dating new people; rather they are now more selective with the matchmaking process.
DHF offers both matchmaking and headhunting options. We are always on the lookout to sift through and select good potentials for our clients. Areas that we were not able to work on previously due to the franchise protocol, we are now able to be more flexible and cater to more discerning needs. We attract clients from across the region and I work mostly with male professionals who have very specific parameters and requirements in search of their potential partner. These clients fly in from (the Philippines, Australia, Qatar and Indonesia) to meet me in person and while in Singapore, I present them with several possibilities who piqued their interests. My team members meanwhile, work more with female clients especially in their late 30s, 40s and even 50s. As we offer a highly personalized matchmaking service, we get to know you at a very deep level and pre-screen a lot of information, so that we can be the best intermediary between our clients. This way, we mitigate surprises and uncertainties when our clients meet each other.
Lack of a better word, you seem to love ‘cupid-ing’, first, it was Its Just Lunch, then Joompa, a Muslim-friendly dating app and then Date High Flyers. Any reasons for that?
Occupying this offline to online (O2O) matchmaking and dating space present a highly exciting opportunity for me. The order in which it was built was It’s Just Lunch, Date High Flyers and soon we will be launching an ethical, Muslim-friendly matchmaking app called Joompa in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei. We are currently in the beta stage and we intend to officially launch Joompa in Quarter 2, 2019. Having worked in the personalized dating/matchmaking field for the last 14 years, I know that the time is ripe for me to scale the business globally. Southeast Asia is my backyard and home to close to 300 million Muslims, out of which some 20% are singles. That’s quite a sizeable market that I know could benefit from a matchmaking app catered for Muslim singles. This is an exciting time to be in the tech space and I am just fascinated by the scalability of this project.
If there is one ‘don’t’ a person should not be doing on a first date, what will it be?
It is so common for many singles to do this one thing that can certainly jeopardize their chance of having a positive outcome. That one DON’T is, “Don’t be distracted”. Too often, singles get nervous or impatient with their date and start shifting their attention to their smartphone, leaving the other party feeling awkward and uncomfortable. The whole process of dating is to get to know each other enough to see if you’d like to meet him/her again. The focus should be on the person and nothing else. One needs to check their work and their long “to do” list at the door and not bring them to the date. In fact, it is my recommendation that their phones be kept away while they’re on the date.
What have your marketing strategy/strategies been?
In the past, we have worked on several marketing strategies that include direct marketing as well as relationship marketing. In fact, some 40% of our business over the years has come from word of mouth marketing or referrals. As we delve into the online space, the strategy has shifted more towards digital and influencer marketing. This can only be successful when we have a good and credible product that can be marketed by just about everybody. I’m also reaching out to potential clients through my weekly radio show on Singapore’s NewsRadio 938 LIVE as well as through some personal videos that help address some frequently asked questions on dating and relationship.
How important is branding to you?
Branding is absolutely critical in the digital space as a lot of people are clamouring to be an authoritative figure in their chosen fields. Branding sets one apart from the newbies and the wannabes. One has to be totally immersed and fully occupy that area of expertise and own the right to be sought after. Businesses that are backed with a personal figure are often more trusted and highly credible. That’s why anyone can easily find me on any social platforms and can also meet me in person when I am invited as a speaker or a moderator locally and regionally.
You are a woman of so many talents and undertakings, so I’m sure your off-days are precious. What do you like doing to rest and relax?
I start my day by walking at the beach after my children have left for school. I spend almost an hour either brisk walking or meditating while looking out to sea. I have always been known for my love for the sea, having grown up in a kampong house that’s next to the sea. To unwind, I walk barefoot on the beach, feeling grounded to Mother Earth and everything that’s connected to nature. You can also find me catching crabs or enjoying being alone with a Stand-Up Paddle in the middle of the sea. I also find great enjoyment gardening, planting and harvesting my tapioca, kedondong trees and interestingly I’m in the process of growing my own D24 durian trees! At the height of my most fulfilling moments are spending time with my family, especially my pet cat ☺ that gives me nothing but good vibes and loving purrs ☺
Any parting words, Anisa?
I have learnt to slow down a lot even when I feel pressured by time and deadlines. I have learnt to soothe myself in times of distress because I think it is necessary (if not critical) to walk on this earth with love, care and tenderness. I have learnt to do my business successfully when I really connect with people and treat them as individuals with stories to tell. I am privileged to be in this people business because I know I can draw a lot of strength and inspiration from people I interact with. I hope to be able to benefit millions of singles who are currently looking for love. I hope through my work and my platforms, I can leave a loving, lasting legacy that we are all connected and we can lift one another with loving kindness and compassion for one another.