16 May 2022
  • Industry Insight

Unexpected Entrepreneur Spotlight: James Dyson

We’ve officially launched a new community for Unexpected Entrepreneurs; Summit.

Summit is the new home of inspiration for Unexpected Entrepreneurs looking to refine their idea or grow their businesses to the next level. 

You may be an Unexpected Entrepreneur, without even knowing it.

Here’s how we define this extraordinary group of entrepreneurs.

An unexpected entrepreneur is an expert in their field, who has ambitious goals to innovate in their sector and push boundaries, which then, in turn, becomes their means for living and their own unique business. Their goal wasn’t always to build a business, but to fill a need in a sector they’re passionate about.

As part of our Unexpected Entrepreneur Spotlight series, we’re looking to take a deep dive into the history, intentions and lessons learnt from Unexpected Entrepreneurs who are running successful businesses and organisations.

Our first is the creator of the world’s best selling vacuum cleaner, James Dyson.

History

In his formative years, James was a keen sports enthusiast, competing in hockey, rugby, sailing and athletics. At the age of nine, he won an art competition where his painting was featured in The Eagle magazine. 

In 1974, James’ first commercial invention was released, the Ballbarrow. A wheelbarrow, without a wheel. The majority of Dyson vacuum cleans now have a similar ball mechanism.

It was in 1978 that James’ focus shifted towards the vacuum cleaner. He famously became frustrated with his vacuum cleaner, so as any inventor would, he took it apart, found the issue and came up with a solution. That solution was, bagless. Five years, and over 5,000 prototypes later, he had invented the first bagless vacuum cleaner.

Dyson Ltd was incorporated in 1991, and in 1993 he opened his own research centre and factory, starting work on the DC01.

Today Dyson has over 1,000 engineers worldwide, an even wider range of products, and boasted a £1.5 billion profit in 2021.

Why James Dyson is an Unexpected Entrepreneur

James’ title at Dyson is Chief Engineer. He set out to solve problems and invent solutions. You can’t deny that he’s clearly a smart individual, and understands how to start and grow a successful business, however, he didn’t set out to start a business, he set out to solve problems.

Let’s remind ourselves of our definition of an Unexpected Entrepreneur; 

An unexpected entrepreneur is an expert in their field, who has ambitious goals to innovate in their sector and push boundaries, which then, in turn, becomes their means for living and their own unique business. Their goal wasn’t always to build a business, but to fill a need in a sector they’re passionate about.

The research shows that James Dyson truly is an innovator and is not afraid to be disruptive about it. If something doesn’t work out, he draws a line under it and moves on, either to improve the project and make it work, or to cut his losses and innovate elsewhere. 

I can’t imagine James spent much time in the early stages of Dyson Ltd doing anything other than hiring smart people to help build the business so that he could continue pushing into his expertise, inventing.

3 Lessons Learnt

1 – Relentless trial and error

The engineers at Dyson’s research and development operation in Malmesbury, UK, constantly test different ways of working, just as James himself did with the CR01. And they fail every day. “Failure is the best medicine,” says Dyson. “As long as you learn something.”

2 – Stick to your lane

James is still inventing. While everything that happens at Dyson HQ is top secret, it’s rumoured that James regularly walks around the design and engineering floors making contributions to upcoming products.

3 – Scratch your own itch

Rather than investing time into a product James cared little about, he was frustrated with a product he used regularly and decided that was a place he could make improvements.

Pete Heslop

Managing Director at Steadfast Collective, Pete's key focus is on building a team of smart creatives who build community-focused web applications.

Share Article