Desmond Marshall, Managing Director of Rouge International & Rouge Ventures tells us about future search engines on sustainability innovations.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Desmond Marshall: We’re doing fine. Here in HK, almost everyone is diligent in wearing a mask, maintaining self-hygiene, and keeping within social distancing limits. Overall, our affected cases are very minimal, and we’re hoping to resume a more flexible lifestyle. I still see we need to be careful with the above rules. It’s just a new norm. I hope you and everyone’s family are safe as well.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Rouge.
Desmond Marshall: I founded Rouge more than 10 years ago, helping venture capital or brands in business repackaging, strategic salvaging, and reviewing innovation ideas. As time progressed, I was at the tip of the innovation spearhead, investing in the latest blockchains and other top ideas. My global reach and experience of everything innovation led me to develop the world’s top search engine on sustainability innovations, called FUTURE (sustainthefuture.net). It’s now the largest repository globally.
How does Rouge innovate?
Desmond Marshall: Our work involves EVERYTHING most innovative in the tech or entrepreneurship world, especially in the sustainability sectors, which is a very wide range. So from cellular meats to high-tech fish farming, to robots in the field, etc. my team NEEDS to be at the forefront and be well aware of such innovations and their influence in the business sector and the world. I train my team to actively search and input into our FUTURE search engine; they get to see a much wider world out of their comfort zones, and in the meantime, also be aware of how other companies do. I believe innovation is more successful if you have more knowledge.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Desmond Marshall: Everyone and every business are affected. Just to different degrees. When I started the company more than 10 years ago, living by my own rules of efficiency as when I advise my clients, I purposely made sure we could all work remotely if the time comes. This means everything related has to be effective and efficient. I have 15 min meetings, and we use the latest tech to communicate with each other (we have overseas staff). Our objectives are simple and clear-cut without ambiguity; hence the team can simply go home (or anywhere appropriate) to get things done.
Externally many investors and companies are refocusing more on sustainability, this means more opportunities for us as for our specific focus, so I think it’s good timing overall.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Desmond Marshall: I make difficult choices every day. It’s not too difficult if you keep your focus on the objective. Then all you see are issues and solutions you need to come up with and decide quickly what you need to do next. I’m very quick and decisive, and my work experience in this area helping save companies honed my skills extremely well. Most people say it is difficult because they overthink and can’t make up their minds. We work in the venture capital industry, and I just decide quickly and do it. Of course, not all actions lead to the kind of outcomes I’d like. So I change and pivot accordingly. The key is maintaining the principle of the core strategy. How you execute it can be different. Over the years, I know about what you can control and what you can manage. You can’t control the weather, but you can manage yourself (risk management) by bringing an umbrella and seeing rain as refreshing and not a nuisance.
What specific tools, software, and management skills are you using to navigate this crisis?
Desmond Marshall: We use more of Zoom these days, not just because internally but with clients too. I try to minimize management overwatch, keeping everyone’s work fairly clear cut and objectives laser-focused. Success is about minimizing risks and also not doing mindless meetings for no reason. Everyone has a voice to improve the company, and no one can conduct power or ego plays to avoid internal politics.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Desmond Marshall: Many competitions in our game. We have startup search engines around the world. We have strong advisory services companies; there is strong demand in terms of finding funding etc. we’re not a linear company, so everyone can be a competitor. COVID is one, too, as it’s messing up many companies’ investment tempo. The good thing is I’m always thinking 5 years ahead and beyond. FUTURE search engine began development 3 years ago, when people were still not into sustainability, and COVID was nowhere near. We used that time to build and hone. So when the pandemic struck, we’ve already had something to show when others are struggling to build.
Your final thoughts?
Desmond Marshall: Most people think sustainability is just about being green, saving trees, etc. Most forget about our method of operations (i.e., management skills) can also have an effect on efficiencies. e.g., if you play politics, then you have to affect other people’s use of time with mindless reports and face-to-face meetings. Innovations in tech, together with the new world order of how we work now, can help change our mindsets in not just saving the planet but also saving our attention to better use of time and efforts. Let’s not just be more aware of our actions on the planet, but our own daily method of doing things to become more effective and efficient.
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