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James Dyson’s claim to fame did not start off from being a rich industrialist who helped to advance the economy of the U.K., neither was he a prolific inventor, instead the origin of his success as an entrepreneur can all be traced to sheer frustration at a product that worked in such an inefficient manner that he desired to improve upon the design just so he could clean his home properly!
The product I am referring to was his Hoover vacuum cleaner and how its inefficient design propelled Dyson into fixing the problem which subsequently launched his entrepreneurial career.
Dyson’s Early Life
When examining Dyson’s early life, it can be seen that he was not born into a rich family and could arguably called middle class. The death of his father through cancer as well as his passion for distance running and design helped him develop the necessary determination and desire for excellence that that propelled him into engineering.
In fact, Dyson may very well have been destined for a life of a simple engineer if it was not for this brother encouraging him to attempt entrepreneurship and inventing solutions to practical problems. It was from this early encouragement that Dyson began his career as an inventor during the latter half of the 1960s (Helm, 74).
Dyson the Inventor
During the latter half of the 1970s, Dyson became increasingly frustrated at the design of the Hoover vacuum cleaner that he was utilizing. The bag that was supposed to act as a catcher for all the dust that the vacuum sucked up kept on getting clogged up with dust making it necessary to stop the vacuum every once in a while in order to remove the bag and remove the dust clog that was causing the problem.
It was due to his increasing level of frustration that Dyson developed the concept of a cyclonic separator which sucked up the dirt in such a way that it condensed into a cohesive whole which made it far easier to vacuum and dispose of the accumulated dirt. Best of all, through the implementation of such a design feature, this in effect did away with the necessity of using disposable bags for the dirt to accumulate in.
Interestingly enough, his invention of the cyclonic separator was not his only invention. He is actually credited with the design of a wheel boat, a type of hybrid car that could function both on land and water. Its inception was based off the concept of allowing boat enthusiasts to easily transition from land into water.
Considering the relative lack of wheel boats in the U.K. at the present, it is relatively safe to assume that this particular invention did not become as successful as his cyclonic vacuum cleaners (Seabrook, 66-73).
Despite the operational effectiveness of his idea, it actually took Dyson well over 10 years from his initial idea conception to actually being able to sell his product on an industrial scale. He had initially developed the “G-force” cleaner as an initial product design that utilized his cyclone design concept (Helm, 74).
Unfortunately, distributors and manufacturers refused to carry or buy the rights to his product given that that the market for disposable vacuum bags at the time within the U.K. amounted to 100 million pounds annually. It is due to this that Dyson looked towards other markets as potential avenues for the sale of his product.
The result was that he was able to find a considerable degree of success in Japan and, as a result, was able to obtain a U.S. patent on his design giving him exclusive rights towards the production and distribution of dual cyclone vacuum cleaners (Aldersey-Williams, 36).
Dyson the Industrialist
In 1993, Dyson had begun to expand on his initial success of mail order vacuum cleaners by putting up a research center and factory within Malmesbury, Wiltshire which initially employed less than 50 people yet expanded to well over 800 by early 2000s.
It is at this point that Dyson’s success as an entrepreneur truly took off wherein through a clever marketing ploy of emphasizing that the standard disposable vacuum bag that was endemic within the vacuum market was no longer necessary, he was able to capture a majority share of the U.K. market making him the undisputed “king”, so to speak, of the U.K. vacuum industry (Helm, 74).
Fast forward to 2005 and we see that his company, Dyson cleaners, has become a market leader in the U.S. as well due to manner in which his vacuums were able to prove their design superiority over other brands such as Hoover which had dominated the market for decades.
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Despite his success in nearly dominating the vacuum markets in both the U.S., U.K. and in other markets, Dyson continues to be criticized till this day for his move to shift his manufacturing operations from Malmesbury, Wiltshire to Malaysia which in effect cost 800 workers their jobs (Helm, 74).
While such a move was unfortunate, Dyson explained that the cost savings that could be realized through the move as well as the ability for the company to expand its operations cheaply due to the high cost of land within the U.K. prompted him to realize the necessity of off-shoring the production of his vacuum cleaners to another country.
What can we learn from Dyson?
Based on everything that has been presented so far, the most important lesson that we can take from the experiences of Dyson is to never be afraid to pursue what we believe in to be right.
For example, if Dyson had just succumbed and never actively attempted to resolve the issue he had with his vacuum cleaner it is likely that to this day consumers would still be relying on an inefficient vacuum design that requires a paper bag in order to collect the dust and dirt.
Another important lesson is that an entrepreneur should not let his/her early failures define who he/she is, instead, such failures can be learned from in order to develop the necessary skills and mindset to overcome obstacles that will await them on their path towards success.
Dyson encountered numerous early setbacks in the form of an initially unreceptive market, low levels of income as well as a considerable degree of doubt over the potential of his product.
However, he did not give up and instead relied on these failures as learning opportunities in order to further improve his product and design concept resulting in his current net worth of roughly 1.5 billion dollars. Dyson is an inspiration not for what he invented, rather, for his perseverance in wanting to become a success despite the odds against him.
Aldersey-Williams, Hugh. “On The Sucking Edge.” New Statesman 125.4306 (1996): 36. Literary Reference Center. Web.
Helm, Burt. “James Dyson.” Inc 34.2 (2012): 74. MasterFILE Premier. Web.
Seabrook, John. “How To Make It.” New Yorker 86.28 (2010): 66-73. Literary Reference Center. Web.