Sir James Dyson — Founder of Dyson on How to Turn the Mundane into Magic | The Tim Ferriss Show | Transcription

Transcription for the video titled "Sir James Dyson — Founder of Dyson on How to Turn the Mundane into Magic | The Tim Ferriss Show".


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Intro (00:00)

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Bitcoin, Ether, Litecoin, and PaxG, as well as USD that's United States dollars based stable coins, including USDC, GUSD, and Pax. BlockFi aggregates liquidity to offer seamless trade execution and pricing. BlockFi also offers instant ACH so you can move funds onto the platform and immediately start trading. On their platform, you will soon be able to trade with ACH, meaning you'll be able to buy cryptocurrencies directly with your bank account. And there's a lot more coming. So check it out. For a limited time, you can earn a crypto bonus of $15 to $250 in value. Again, for a limited time, you can earn a crypto bonus of $15 to $250 in value when you open a new account. Get started today at and use code TIM at signup. That's and code TIM. This episode is brought to you by Theragon. I have two Theragons and they're worth their weight in gold. I've been using them every single day. Whether you're an elite athlete or just a regular person trying to get through your day, muscle pain and muscle tension are real things. That's why I use the Theragon. I use it at night. I use it after workouts. It is a handheld percussive therapy device that releases your deepest muscle tension. So for instance, at night, I might use it on the bottom of my feet. It's helped with my plantar fasciitis. I will have my girlfriend use it up and down the middle of my back and I'll use it on her. It's an easy way for us to actually trade massages in effect. You can think of it as massagerie invented on some level. Helps with performance, helps with recovery, helps with just getting your back to feel better before bed. After you've been sitting for way too many hours, I love this thing. The all-new Gen 4 Theragon has a proprietary brushless motor that is surprisingly quiet. It's easy to use and about as quiet as an electric toothbrush. It's pretty astonishing. You really have to feel the Theragon's signature power amplitude and effectiveness to believe it. It's one of my favorite gadgets in my house at this point. So I encourage you to check it out. Try Theragon. That's Thera, T-H-E-R-A-G-U-N. There's no substitute for the Gen 4 Theragon with an OLED screen. That's OLED for those wondering. That's organic, light-emitting diode screen. Personalized Theragon app, an incredible combination of quiet and power. And the Gen 4 Theragons start at just $199. I said I have two. I have the Prime, and I also have the Pro, which is like the Super Cadillac version. My girlfriend loves the soft attachments. On that, so try Theragon for 30 days starting at only $199. Go to right now and get your Gen 4 Theragon today. One more time, that's, Hello boys and girls, ladies and germs. This is Tim Ferriss. Welcome to another episode of The Tim Ferriss Show, where it is my job every episode to interview world-class performers from different disciplines to tease out the habits, lessons and so on that you can apply and test in your own lives. My guest today is none other than Sir James Dyson. Sir James Dyson is the founder and chairman of, as you guessed it, Dyson. Through investment in science and technology and working alongside Dyson's 6,000, that's 6,000 you heard me correctly, engineers and scientists, he developed products that solve problems ignored by others. Sir James was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 2015 and appointed to the Order of Merit in the 2016 New Year Honors. He was awarded a CBE in 1996 and a Knight Bachelor in 2007. James is the founder of James Dyson Foundation, inspiring the next generation of engineers through scholarships, engineering workshops, university partnerships and the annual James Dyson Award, an international student design competition. In 2017, James established the Dyson Institute of Engineering and Technology, where undergraduate engineers pay zero tuition and earn a full salary while completing their degree studies and working on real life projects alongside world experts in Dyson's global engineering research and technology teams. James is the author of the brand new book, "Invention Subtidal a Life", the story of how he came to be an inventor himself and built Dyson, leading it to become one of the most inventive technology companies in the world. James, welcome to the show. Oh, it's very nice to meet you Tim. I look forward to our discussion. I have many questions and I come to this conversation as not just a fan and admirer, but consumer and user of your products. I have a Dyson V11 animal about 40 feet from where I'm sitting. I have hot and cool purifying fans throughout the house because my girlfriend and I otherwise fight over the central heating.

Journey And Success Of Dyson

Name and Dime in the Water (06:07)

I want to cover some familiar ground just to establish context for people, but we'll bounce around as I mentioned before. We started recording and I thought we would start with a name and task for some context. The name is Jeremy Fry. Could you tell us who Jeremy Fry was? He was the skine of the chocolate family, the Fry's chocolate family, but was an inventor. In fact, his father, who worked in the Fry's chocolate family, was also a better inventor than he was businessman. I don't think their shares in fries were first very much by the time they sold them. But Jeremy was an inventor and was the chairman and founder of an engineering company. I went to see him to ask him for money actually because I'd done a theatre project which used the same architectural roof system that he had used in his own factory. He had pulled the entire factory roof up by himself with pulleys and ropes, very light and a minimum structure, a sort of buckminster-fuller type structure. I designed a theatre shaped like a mushroom for the theatrical impassario, Joan Littlewood. I knew he was a millionaire, so I wondered if he'd be interested in funding it. He said, "I'm not going to give you any money at all, but I can see you're an ambitious designer. Why don't you design some things for me?" That was one I was still at college, so I spent three further years at college and then he offered me a job. I went to work for him, making and selling and designing a boat that I had designed for him, his invention, but I had engineered it for him. Over the years, I only actually worked for him for about five years, and then I branched out on my own. I came back and we had a joint company together for a few years, developing a wheelboat, a boat that went across the water on its own wheels, propelled and floated by its own wheels. Also, we did the vacuum cleaner together and a very interesting wheelchair together, electric wheelchair.

At what fantastic age? (08:03)

How old were you when you first approached him for possible financing, which he rejected, but what was the age I guess you would have been? I was 20, 21. Yes, exactly, 20, 21. What did you initially go to university study? Was it designed, and if it was designed within what fields were you hoping to focus? That's very interesting question. I did classics at school, Latin, Greek and ancient history, but I also did art. Of course, I enjoyed art much more than that in Greek and ancient history, and I wondered if there was a career in art. I went to art school as an experiment more than anything else. In my first year, I discovered that there was this subject called design. In the mid-60s, 1965, design was not something that was talked about or publicized in the press or magazines, and there was no good design in shops either. I didn't know what it was, and when I was told what it was, it intrigued me.

How furniture design switched to architecture (09:04)

I managed to get into the Royal College of Arts to study furniture design. Actually, I quickly switched to architecture because I thought it was more exciting and more intellectually challenging. That's not to put down furniture designers, it's just that it intrigued me more. I spent two years doing architecture. That's how I came to do this Buckminsterfula type building. That's how I came to meet the chairman of an engineering company. That's what really turned me into an amateur engineer. I have to stress that I am an amateur engineer. I'm not a trained engineer. I hope I think like an engineer.

What it means to think like an (amateur) engineer (09:43)

Let's dig into that last statement because I think there's probably a lot there. What does it mean to think like an engineer to you? Whenever I look at anything, I wonder how it works. Then I wonder how it could work better. Could I make it work better? Is there a technology I could use? Is there a way I can reconfigure it? Is there a radical breakthrough I can do for lateral thinking that would make a huge difference? I just think like that all the time. It could be said to be rather irritating to analyze every single thing you look at and sort of reject it because it's horrid or it doesn't work very well. That's how I'm built. That's when I realized that I should have been an engineer. I should have trained as an engineer. That's all right. I just did it wrong way round. I wasn't going to say it too early in this conversation, but James, just imagine what you could have done had you had a formal engineering career. I think you've done quite well. So, James, it's a serious point because I have quite a number of engineers who trained as an engineer and then trained as designers. I've got a few other like me who trained as designers and have them become an engineer. Actually, I can't do the calculations that engineers do, but I hope that I think like an engineer and have the same sort of enthusiasm and fascination and curiosity. That's what's really important. Were those fostered in any memorable way by your parents or by other people when you were growing up, when you were in your younger formative years? Probably not because my father died when I was nine and he was in hospital from when I was six to when I was nine. As I say, I did classics at school, so I didn't spend any time really in the physics labs or the chemistry labs. But I was interested in how things work and I did take things apart and try to put them back together again. And I did try to build lighting systems and certainly when I was 18, I bought an old car and had to learn how to repair that. So, I don't think it was something I was really taught. And if anything, I'm an auto-diadact and not a not someone who's ever taught anything. And actually, I don't particularly like being taught things. I like to discover things rather than be taught them. Not a very cooperative person.

Teaching our children a thoughtful fury (12:05)

That's probably one of your superpowers, I would imagine, in a lot of respects, at least from what I've gleaned. If there are parents listening and I somewhat selfishly ask this because I'm planning on starting a family soon, but is the way to nurture that curiosity through discovery, through projects, like offering kids the opportunity to disassemble things and reassemble or simply disassemble? Do you have any thoughts related to how to foster a nurture that? Perhaps not by direct teaching, but through other ways of approaching it? Well, yes, I think learning by discovering, by failure, by making mistakes, by being curious about things, curious the way you make things, curious about the way things work, to discover why some things work well and some things work badly. The thing I've noticed with my children is that they too don't really like being taught things. They all learn empirically, but self-discovery. I was just astonished to find, I had lays the mills at home in the workshop, and I turned around one day and there was my 14-year-old son working the lathe. I never taught him. He's gone through his life like that. My son, his musician, has taught himself to play all the instruments he plays, that flute, the piano, and the guitar, and has taught himself how to work all the systems, the recording systems. I think it's the best way to learn, and it's the most exciting way to learn. A lot of it is failure, of course. I did what I call my book, A Life of Failure, because it's failure is exciting, and you learn from failure. If you're taught something, and then what you do works, you haven't really learned anything.

The Genesis Story of the Vacuum (14:00)

You haven't learned what doesn't work, which is hugely more interesting. You have a long illustrious CV full of successes, but the connective tissue would seem to be hundreds or thousands of what some people might consider failures. I suspect you view them, perhaps slightly differently, but can you tell us the genesis story of the vacuum? If you wouldn't mind sharing the origin story, I think that would be a good jumping off point for a lot of other questions. Yes, well, when I was young, the only machine we had at home, where it was very, you know, but didn't really know money when I grew up, was a vacuum cleaner, sort of old fashioned upright vacuum cleaner with a huge pillowcase on the back, you know the sort of thing. I just remember as I was made to clean the house with it, I'm a mother. I just remember the horrible smell of stale dog and stale dust. It not picking things up, and then having to go outside and shake the bag out. And then restarting the machine and it's still not working very well. So I just remember that from my childhood. And then when I was like you, starting a family and had a wife and so on, I bought one of these, a second hand one of these original type of vacuum cleaners with a pillowcase on the back hanging off of that. The same experience. So I thought, well, there must be a more modern version. So we went to the shots of my wife and we bought what was allegedly the most powerful vacuum cleaner in the world. And it was a canister model that sits on the ground. You don't push it along like a lawnmower, you pull it around with a hose. And it had paper bags, it advanced from pillowcases to paper bags. And I experienced the same thing, you know, it wasn't picking things up. It was smelling of nasty stale dog and stale dust and wasn't picking things up. So I couldn't find a replacement bag because I assumed the bag was full. So I went down and tipped the contents into the garbage can and gaffertaped or scotch taped it, the end back up again. So I had an empty bag and it's not a bag full, it's an empty bag. And I put it back in a vacuum cleaner and still no suction. And I thought, wait a minute, wait a minute, what's this all about? I was told that when the bag is full, you have to change the bag. What I'm discovering is that an empty bag has no suction. So I thought about it being someone with an engineering vent. The penny dropped, that all the airflow had to go through the bag. The bag wasn't a depository when the dust went. The bag is a filter. And the very first dust that goes into the bag, whether it's a pillowcase or a cloth bag, clogs the bag, the dust goes straight for those holes because the dust wants to get out. It's taken there by the airflow. When the holes are blocked, the airflow is blocked. Say you lose your suction. So I went down to the shops and bought a placement bag, put it in the machine and had very good suction to begin with. And then it rapidly tailed off as I vacuumed. So I thought, well, this is crazy. If you buy a light bulb, it's supposed to give you 100 watts. That's more difficult now with LEDs. But it's basically give you 100 watts and it gives you the 100 watts until it goes pop. You get 100% performance. What you're getting with this vacuum cleaner is a heavily reducing performance. This is awful. I'm annoyed. I'm angry. Anyway, so my anger was simmering within me until I was installing a dry powder coating machinery, a huge machine, to spray my wheelbarrow frames because I was making the ballbarrow, a wheelbarrow at the time. And we used a cloth filter to trap the powder that missed the frames. It was sucked away with a giant can. But every hour, the cloth clogged. And you had to shut down the whole machine, shake off the cloth and put the cloth back up again. And I asked around in the industry what intelligent people used. And they said, "No, they use a site clone to collect the dust, not that filter thing you've got, that cloth thing you've got." So I got a quote for one and it was a huge amount of money. I simply couldn't afford it. So I decided to build one over a couple of weekends. It started for at high. And the chimney at the top stuck through the factory roof. And we collected the dust in a plastic bag at the bottom of the site clone. And the machine ran beautifully all day long without ever clogging. And we collected the dust at the bottom and reused it. Then of course I connected it, this clogging filter with the clogging bag in the vacuum cleaner. And I wondered why can't you use a little version of the 30 foot high one? What about a one foot high one? What's that going to be like? So I rushed home and made a cardboard version of this huge one. It was only a foot high. And put it onto the back of my upright vacuum cleaner, because I've kept the upright one. And pushed it around and it appeared to work. So I always say that was the first vacuum cleaner that doesn't lose suction. I didn't know the efficacy. I didn't know how well it collected the fine dust. All I knew was that it was collecting the dog hairs and the dust that was on the floor. That's really the genesis of it.

How the Cyclone Became Successful (19:27)

Now, from what I've read, it was an immediate success. You licensed it to the world's largest companies and henceforth amassed this great fortune. An influence. Is that how it panned out? I wish. I'm joking of course. I wish. No, well, no, no, first of all, I offered the idea to the ballbaric company. And they weren't interested. What they actually said was, which is something, refrain that I was to hear many, many times over the next few years. Look, if there was a better vacuum cleaner, one of those big vacuum cleaner companies would have done it. So we're not interested in it. So we had a parting of the ways and I went to see Jeremy Fry, my old mentor, and he agreed to back the development of the vacuum cleaner. And so we had a 50/50 company and I was able to devote my whole energies on my own to developing the cyclone for use in the vacuum cleaner. I went around to see there was an expert at Porton Down, which is a very famous chemical warfare establishment in England. The head of that had written a book on filtration devices, cyclones, electrostatic precipitators, more that sort of thing. He said, you'll never make it work in a vacuum cleaner because cyclones are only good down to 20 microns. And as I knew, household prices less than one micron down to half a micron or even less. So that was an interesting challenge. So I went back home and there are some formulae for making successful cyclones. And I got my old mass teacher who happened to be the husband of my godmother to help me with the first mass to work out the formulae. So I went through all five of the serious formulae and I got five different answers. And I thought this is no use. I've got to do this empirically. I've got to develop this myself. I started the process of developing a cyclone that would work down to half a micron or less. And that took 5,126 prototypes, failures, before I got the 5,127th, which worked. It sounds tedious, but it was the complete opposite. It was absolutely fascinating. Day after day, building maybe one cyclone a day and testing it for, I was testing it for a dust capture, the ability to capture, retain the dust and also for the airflow through the cyclone because I didn't want it to be too restrictive. It was fascinating. And I do an experiment and sometimes it would get better, sometimes it would get worse. But because I only made one change at a time, I knew exactly what it was that made it better or exactly what it was that made it worse. So it's a process of learning by experimentation. But it wasn't enjoyable every day because failures are not enjoyable necessarily. And I'd come home in the evening, cover with dust and tell poor tutoring what had happened that day. And she tried to stay interested as we were getting more and more into debt.

One at a time (22:31)

And it took three or four years. It was a long, long, long haul. How did you pay the bills during that time, keep the lights on at home while you were going through these many, many, many iterations? Jeremy Fry, my partner, as it were, had put up 50% of the money. And I had sold a bit of land I had to veg—my vegetable garden, very productive vegetable garden to build a house on it. So between us, we had about 60,000 pounds, I think it was. And that saw us through three or four years. And then I started getting into debt. Now, I had never thought to ask this, but since you said one change at a time, this gets a question for me because I think in the minds of many, they might hear 5,000 plus designs. Each one is totally different. And you've tried 5,000 plus different things, so to speak, sort of holistically speaking. But my question is, since you were changing one variable at a time, making one tweak and then assessing whether it improved or degraded the quality and performance, did you in advance have, say, 100 tests or 200 or 500 that you knew you were going to run in the process of not doing multivariate testing, but sort of changing one small component at a time? Or were you testing one and then deciding on the next four or five? I'm just curious if there was a plan in advance, a schedule of some type for the things you're going to test such that I know this is a long question. You knew that you weren't going to do two designs and when the final outcome, it was going to take a period of time and many, many iterations. Does that question make any sense? Yeah, I've absolutely got it. I'll answer it in a totally different way. The perfect invention. It's not about being brilliant. It's about being logical and persistent. If you try and do a shortcut and say, "Oh, if I did it like this with a pipe, this diameter and a length here and something here and the thing there, it's going to work. It's going to be brilliant. It's going to work. I know it'll work." You do that and it doesn't work. You don't know which of those elements that you incorporated has caused a problem. You have to start right at the beginning with the most basic, most simple thing and then make one change and see what effect that has. If you make two changes, you don't know which worked or which didn't work. You don't know anything about it. You only know its performance. You don't know why. You must only do one change at a time. There can be brilliance in knowing what that one change might be. Although it's tempting to say, "Well, I wanted to try different lengths. I wanted to try different angles. I wanted to try different diameter pipes going in and out. I wanted to try multi-entries. There's lots of things I wanted to do, but I had to start right at the beginning and just go one step at a time. Every single time you try and jump to the solution, it doesn't work and you've got lost. You have to go back to concrete solid ground where you know the result of what you've done, that change you made. I have a question about perseverance because many people listening will hear the story and wonder how and why you continued.

Why did you persist? (25:53)

I want to add a little bit of nuance to that just by observing that you have prototypes designed, produced and shipped many, many different products over the years. Some have worked out. Some haven't. There are many behind closed doors. Ultimately, they were stopped. They were abandoned in some form or fashion because they weren't viable. In this particular case, why did you persist? Had you done some back-of-the-envelope calculations and determined, "Hey, we have 60,000 pounds downside here." The upside, I think, could be tremendous. Therefore, this is worth three to four years of my time. If it gets to six, I'm going to cut my losses. How did you think about that? What compelled you to continue? You're clearly a very smart guy. You wouldn't just be pounding your head against a brick wall at the end of a dead end. I'd love to hear you comment on that. Yes. I suppose at the beginning, I thought it might take me a year at the most and not as many as 5,000 prototypes. Ever the optimist. I thought that it would be easier than it was. That's always true with every development. It's always much, much harder. I still run, actually, due long distance running. I have this thing called the pain barrier. There's a point three calls all the way through the race where it's really starting to hurt and you can't see the end and you want to give up. You go through that process with every invention, with every technology breakthrough. It looks brilliant at the end because from where you started and where you ended up, there's such a difference, there's such a big leap and it's different to anything that's gone before. It looks like an act of brilliance, but it wasn't. It was just hard work and it always takes four times as long as you think it will. They'd always cost more money. Fortunately, most research and development, until you start using really expensive machinery, it's mostly human effort. Of course, I was putting my human effort into it, which didn't cost very much. Over the four years, I did get into debt in the end. I'm in huge debt in the end. What kept me going was that I was making progress and I was convinced that it was the way vacuum cleaners should be. Vacuum cleaners shouldn't lose suction. It's deeply disappointing. Unsatisfactory, the failure of suction and lose efficacy. I want to get the housework done quickly and get all that pesky dust stuff. You don't want to leave it behind. I was convinced that, "Well, I was pretty certain that if I could make it work, people would be interested in it." I didn't know. I was just assuming that. Like me, they would be annoyed that they're losing performance. It's unsatisfactory. It was partly that I could see it would make a good product. Partly, I wanted to solve the problem. How do you capture this dust? How do you get separate dust from there without having a clogging filter in the way? It was a really interesting problem, not for anyone else, but it was an interesting problem for me to solve, particularly as I've been told it would never work. That always eggs me on.

Did you have a plan B? (29:29)

I was going to say that seems to be the best way to motivate you. Did you have this as a full-time occupation or were you doing other things simultaneously or did you have in mind in the back of your head a plan B if this weren't to turn out? I had no plan B. It had to work. I was pinning everything on it, betting the house literally because I had to put the house up as collateral to the bank loan. I didn't know it would work, but I just hoped that I could make it work. I was going across the yard every day to the equivalent of my garage. It's actually a coach house, but it's the old-fashioned equivalent of a garage working there on my own for two or three years. You finally, you summit Everest.

What happened after Dyson teamed up with Jeremy Fry? (30:18)

I'm going to mix all sorts of metaphors here. You have the new and improved mass trap. Does the world beat a path to your door? What happens? What unfolds after that point? I had previously run a very successful company making high-speed lending craft, and my partner would run a very successful engineering company making valve actuators. We both decided we were inventors and designers and not commercial people.

Their first commercial vacuum cleaner (30:45)

What we decided to do was develop technology, not commercialize it. Our intention was to go out and license it.

Challenges And Inspirations

Trying to deal with cash-poor companies (31:01)

I spent, well, I suppose about six years, about slightly longer, trying to license the technology. No one was beating a path to my door. I was beating a path to their doors, likely people. They pretty well all turned me down. In fact, all of them. All of them turned me down. Some started and gave up, but otherwise, total non-acceptance. It's interesting because I suppose I should have given up then. If the commercial people didn't think it was worth doing, why should I think it's worth doing? The more people to turn me down, the more excited I got. Why were they turning it down? Well, they're probably turning it down because they're rather like selling bags, a mine that didn't have a bag and they made a lot of money. The razor blade syndrome, partly because of that.

The razor blade syndrome (31:50)

Also, I really noticed that they weren't interested in changing their technology. They wanted to stick with what they had. What I call a commodity product, it's not very exciting product. They're not skis or surfboards or anything interesting. In fact, cleaners were a commodity product in which no one had any interest. I could see why they weren't bothering because consumers weren't bothering. It's that thing with a bag that sucks. I saw it differently. You use it every day. It makes a noise. It's supposed to do an efficient job of getting rid of dust, which is nasty stuff, and keeping it inside the machine and getting up dog hairs and all the awful things. If it doesn't do that properly, your life is not as pleasant. I saw it as a very important thing. It's a mundane product. It's a apparently boring product, but I thought we should make it interesting. It's an important product. Just a quick thanks to one of our sponsors and we'll be right back to the show. This episode is brought to you by Athletic Greens. I get asked all the time what I would take if I could only take one supplement. The answer is invariably Athletic Greens. I view it as all-in-one nutritional insurance. I recommended it, in fact, in the four-hour body. This is more than 10 years ago, and I did not get paid to do so. With approximately 75 vitamins, minerals, and whole food-sourced ingredients, you'd be very hard-pressed to find a more nutrient-dense and comprehensive formula on the market. It has multivitamins, multimineral greens complex, probiotics, and prebiotics for gut health and immunity formula, digestive enzymes, adaptogens, and much more. I usually take it once or twice a day just to make sure I've covered my bases if I miss anything I'm not aware of. Of course, I focus on nutrient-dense meals to begin with. That's the basis. But Athletic Greens makes it easy to get a lot of nutrition when whole foods aren't readily available. From travel packets, I always have them in my bag when I'm zipping around. Right now, Athletic Greens is giving my audience a special offer on top of their all-in-one formula, which is a free vitamin D supplement and five free travel packs with your first subscription purchase. Many of us are deficient in vitamin D. I've found that true for myself, which is usually produced in our bodies from sun exposure. So, adding a vitamin D supplement to your daily routine is a great option for additional immune support. Support your immunity, gut health, and energy by visiting You'll receive up to a year's supply of vitamin D and five free travel packs with your subscription. Again, that's The razor blade mention makes me think of one of my friends who's one of the most successful venture capital investors in Silicon Valley and one of his guiding, I don't want to say theses, it's either make it a bit too high-falutin, but one of his heuristics is looking for startups that for every dollar of revenue they generate take away ten dollars of revenue from some incumbent. And so, I can see why they would not want to replace their, I suppose, continuity revenue or business model with your technology. When did you finally feel that you were at an inflection point or had gained a handhold with commercial, I suppose, confirmation in any way? I mean, I did have one or two licensees who did start to produce vacuum cleaners. Some gave up. One in Japan continued. But by, well, it was actually ten or eleven years after I first started developing cyclic technology, I realised I changed the business plan. Instead of trying to license people, I was fed up with license agreements, the difficulty of licensing people, that was becoming a lawyer dealing with license agreements, not an engineer developing technology. I thought, well, look, these competitors clearly don't want to develop new technology. They don't want to bring out a product with a difference. I'm going to do it myself. I didn't want to have to be a manufacturer and that someone commercialising it, but I'm going to do it because I really believe in it. So put your money away on mouth, please, Dyson, and do it. We were three engineers at the time. We decided we were going to the business making vacuum cleaners. We had no factory, no money, nothing. We just crammed together in our coach house with the machine shop underneath.

Some cost fallacy (36:46)

There's a couple of quick questions. You believed in it. Now, one could imagine there's some. Now in this case, it wasn't supposed fallacy, but some cost fallacy. You're so invested in this that you really want to see it to the end. Did you also have consumer feedback or feedback from friends who had used prototypes that confirmed your belief in the product? Was there some type of market feedback that also contributed to that belief in continuing? I think my friend has all thought I was mad at reducing myself and my family's independence. But no, unfortunately not. By the way, I bought out my partner by this point because he had got fed up with all the failed licensees and his financial advisors advised him to get out. There was no future in it. I bought him out. Tell that story over some stiff drinks these days, man. Or at least he used to. It's a very friendly parting. I quite understood it. The vacuum cleaner wasn't his life. It was my life, not his life. I bought him out for £45,000. I was on my own. In many ways, actually, he was a huge help and he was my mentor, a great friend and a wonderful designer and engineer. I felt a bit lonely going off without him. But on the other hand, it made me feel better being completely on my own. It suited me. But I had no idea that whether anyone wanted to buy this product, no idea at all. I hadn't done any market research. You can't really go and ask someone whether they want to buy a vacuum cleaner that doesn't have a bag. They've got a strange sight clone instead. It's got this automatic hose that comes off the bat. You can't get a straight answer to that. It's too easy to think that you can go and ask people whether your product is going to be successful. It makes me think of the Henry Ford quote, which I'm paraphrasing, but if you ask people what they wanted, they would have set a faster horse, something along those lines. Exactly. The whole point is you've got to back your own instincts. You can't get help on this. You've got to take the risk. Sometimes you're going to be okay and sometimes you're not. That's just life's like that. In a way, that's what makes it exciting. That's what makes it difficult. Yes, certainly it's living on the knife edge.

Did James dyson have any difficult conversations with his wife? (39:16)

You don't know. So did you have any difficult conversations with your wife at the time? If so, how were those navigated? How did you approach those? My wife was wonderful. There were no difficult conversations. She believed in it. She's an artist and was wonderfully supportive, but she understands the need for a project and to create something. The need to create the need to have a project. She never once can play, although we were incredibly short of money. I had to grow our own vegetables and she made our clothes. She was hardworking and wonderfully supportive. There were never any difficult conversations, even when we went along to the bank with a lawyer to sign endless guarantee forms, putting the house on the line, every penny we had on the line. Wow. I hope you like it. I hope you like it. St. Wikipedia entry, the retail shop surveys and so on. I understand.

Why did James Dyson design the vacuum cleaner with a transparent section? (40:17)

Please fact check this, but showed that people didn't want to see their dirt to this dust, dog hairs, etc. That the vacuum cleaners bins should not be see through. Why did you decide to design in the way that you did? When we went to see the retailers to try and sell the vacuum views, the retailers, of course, most of them refused to stock it because it was strange looking. You could see the dust and who on earth is Dyson, not Hoover or Electrolux or a big brand. We're not interested in you. As engineers, we liked seeing the dust. It was incredibly satisfying and fun. If you push the machine around on the floor, making a noise, and you could see the dust collecting in the bin. If it's going to bag, you can't see that you're doing anything. Of course, I would say you're not doing much, but at least you can see what you're doing. You pick up interesting things. Although dirt is disgusting, it's also quite fascinating. We thought seeing the result of your endeavors was an important part of the process. Nobody else did. The retailers certainly didn't want their customers to see the dirt. However, one or two brave retailers did take it on. Curiously enough, seeing the dirt was the very thing that customers wanted to have. They wanted that, that fun, that excitement, that satisfaction, if you like. Again, this is what you're really asking about. Is market research is it worth doing? Can you learn from it? The answer is not much, and you certainly can't rely on it. Again, you have to back yourself, you have to back your own judgement. It's not a science. You have to believe your right and back it. Hopefully, you'll write more times than you're wrong. With those few intrepid retailers who are willing to take a risk, I'm wondering what their risk was. Did they actually buy from you at wholesale and then stock? Did they take them on consignment or some type of other arrangement? What was the pricing of your vacuum compared to others in the stores? That's a very interesting question. I'll do it in pounds, but the comparison works for dollars. We were selling ours at just under 200 pounds, whereas most vacuum cleaners were 50 pounds. We were three to four times the price of everybody else. I think the retailers didn't take it because it looked different and because we weren't a brand. The one or two who did take it were mail order catalog companies. They were our first customers. They're not the most highbrow of retailers. They're quite nobrow, which is a very interesting thing actually, because what I discovered and life has confirmed it since is that the richer you are, the less interested you are in vacuuming. The poorer you are, the more important vacuuming is to you. Probably the more house proud you are because you actually do the vacuuming. I think there's an assumption that because the vacuum cleaner is expensive, it's bought by people with money. Whilst that might be true, there's also a great deal of interest in people who don't have much money and it's a very important purchase for them. That's fascinating. Interestingly, it's recession proof. If you, as a recession, you stop having expensive holidays and instead you think more about your home and of course during the pandemic, that's been utterly true. But if you're confined at home, good filtration in your home, good vacuuming is very, very important. Do you remember the terms of the deal with those retailers? Were you dropshipping? Were they taking inventory on and then giving you net 200 terms? Well I decided in my own simplistic terms that they should put their money where their mouth is so they should buy for stock. We've never, ever done consignment. Never done that. You need a retailer who believes, as you believe, who's backing your idea and who's putting effort and money and care into it. So most people I think would describe Dyson or in their minds. I see Dyson as a premium brand. This is in some cases, probably in almost all cases an expensive, relatively expensive brand. I've read a quote of yours which is, and again, please feel free to fact check. Can't trust everything you read on the internet. I don't design down to a price. I would just love to hear how you think about finding and solving problems, picking your problems, and then when you go into product development, how you approach it if price is not one of the determining factors or a primary determining factor. There are people who design to a price, and I absolutely see that there's probably a huge market for that and that's a perfectly valid thing to do. But I want to design something that works really well and that lasts and uses new technology and improves the performance all the time. That's what I'm after. It's not that I don't care about cost or price. I really care about cost or price, but I want to incorporate the technology that makes it work well or does a job more efficiently or uses less electricity, whatever it is. And often, of course, new technology, for example, we've developed new technology high-speed motors, but they cost four times as much as the old motor. But then much more efficient, much lighter, use less electricity and use fewer materials. So it is the future, but initially, they cost four times the price. We've now got them down a bit, so they're about twice the price. So I'm not trying to do a cheap product. I'm trying to do a product that works really well and advances that genre from a technology point of view. Who are some, actually, before I get to who are some, you already mentioned, I think, one figure who may have been influential in your thinking, Buckminster Fuller, for those who don't know that name, you can Google Bucky Balls, Geodesic Domes, Tensegrity.

Inventors, designers, engineers who inspired James. (46:32)

These are some terms that will take you down the rabbit hole of Buckminster Fuller. Who is Akio Morita? Akio Morita? And what did you appreciate about him? The wonderful thing about Akio, just one story, which really says a lot about him. Think of the Walkman and how that has changed everybody's life. But his company didn't want to do the Walkman because it wouldn't record. I mean, up until 1982 or whatever it was, a tape recorder was a tape recorder. It did recordings. Akio Morita bought out a tape recorder that didn't record. It played back only. And his own company thought it was completely mad. That's brilliance. That takes balls to say, "I'm going to bring out a product that doesn't do what people think it's going to do, but it's going to enlighten their lives." And has it enlightened their lives? It's extraordinary. The I pod, almost the iPhone, almost everything's come for MP3 players. They've all come from that one idea that you want to play back. Are there any other inventors, designers, engineers who stood out to you when you were developing your chops or who really stand out to you currently? Maybe one in the same. I always admired Citroen. Not a Citroen are now, but as they used to be. When they developed new technology, hydrodynamic suspension, whether hydraulic system, they did the steering, the brakes, and the suspension, or four-wheel suspension, interconnected suspension, an aerodynamic car. They were 50, 60 years ahead of the rest of the car industry. I enormously admired them. Sony, of course, who developed one of her technology, developed the first, well, not of that, they got the lithium ion technology from Oxford University, but first commercialized and produced lithium ion batteries. Sony have a whole string of technology developments they name. Equally I admired Mr. Honda, of Honda. Not because necessarily he did brilliant inventions, but because he was the master of iterative improvement. He was never satisfied. He was always making maybe little changes at a time. But in the end, all those little changes added up to a quantum leap. So a Honda, I mean, a Honda norm though, was the first lawnmower I ever had, which always started first time. Even after the winter, with the old petrol from the previous season left in it, I could guarantee and I used to bet people, I'll go over there and one pull on the cord and it'll start. So I might Honda for a slightly different reason. He makes what they look like big inventions, but they're not. They're iterative improvements and that's something to never forget. You must never be satisfied. Always be dissatisfied. Always be unhappy about your product. Keep on making it better and better. It's a life of unhappiness. Then I've got Frank Whittle who developed the jet engine and that's a great story because no one believed in him. He wrote the theory of the jet engine in a sort of Charles exercise book when he was at Cranfield University. He was an RAF fitter actually. He used to make models left school when he was 15, went through, got into Cranfield and then went to Cambridge. And while he was at Cambridge, he got the first class, the first both triposes, as well as built the world's first jet engine. And I've never seen an engineer get things right first time like he did. We've in fact got one of his, one of the very first engines he did. It's called a well and I bought it off someone enthusiast who had done it, had found it and had done it up. But it never worked very well. The fuel system didn't work. And my engineers discovered that the fuel system was a Rolls Royce system, not a Whittle design system. So we rebuilt the fuel system from Whittle's drawings and it worked perfectly and it works perfectly every time, whereas the Rolls Royce one didn't. So I've got huge, huge admiration for him. I mean, that was an extraordinary development. I mean, turning an engine that had 12,000 moving parts, the Spitfire engine, the air engines at the time had all these moving parts. We hugely vulnerable. I had to have cooling and one bullet through the cooling pipe and planes had it, dives and the pilot has to bail out. So he turned into one moving part. Just brilliance, breathtaking brilliance. It's very elegant, very, very elegant.

Innovation And Other Projects

Creating the Airblade. (51:41)

Now actually it's as good a segue as any. I recall the first time I used the air blade and please forgive me if this is simplistic and please correct me if I'm getting this description wrong, but where the air is acting like a blade, almost like a squeegee on a windshield, pulling the water off of your hands as opposed to trying to evaporate it. And I think everyone's had the experience of using these sort of gas station bathroom or airport bathroom, drying devices that feel like a kitten farting on your hand. I mean, they do nothing. So you just end up wiping it all over your hair or your clothing or something like that. How did you pick that as a product category? Was it just one of 600 that you tried within Dyson and it was the one that happened to work? Could you walk us through the process of developing the air blade? We were trying to use air blades, which is a very sharp blade of air for another project. And it wasn't quite good enough for what I can't tell you what the project is. It's top secret, but it wasn't quite good enough for what we were doing. But we noticed as you ran it across your hand, it rippled your skin. So we chopped water on our hands and saw that it's scraped, as you said, just like a squeegee, but it's not physical. It's just air, just like a squeegee. So we thought, well, I'll make a great hand dryer. And of course, we looked at hand dryers and how they work is they have a three kilowatt, I mean, a three kilowatt heater, as well as a vacuum blower, a vacuum cleaner motor blower. So they're three and a half thousand watts. Very expensive to run, whereas our blade was only costing us 700 watts. And what's more, the thing about the hot air is it chaps your hands. It's trying to, as you said, evaporate the water, turn the water on your hands into steam, which is very expensive process. It takes a long time. And also it leaves your hands chat. It removes the oil, some of your skin. As do paper towels. We thought, well, this makes a really good hand dryer. So we made a hand dryer. It so happened that this was our first application of the new technology motorway developing. So we developed a major that went 120,000 RPM instead of the normal 30,000 RPM. 120,000 RPM by the way is very fast. I mean, a jet engine is 15,000 RPM. And a Formula One engine is about 19,000 at maximum. We were taking electric motors from 30,000 up to 120,000. And in a hand dryer, not a sophisticated product, in a hand dryer and a vacuum cleaner, it gave us great airflow, a great pressure. And pressure was important for this air blade.

James Dyson's participation in US TV show Better Late Than Never (54:39)

Was that the first product? And I simply don't know. Was that the first product that was sold to, I don't know if this is the right term, but industrial clients as opposed to end user individuals? Or had you already developed a sales channel for that type of product? No, not at all. We didn't do a business plan. And by the way, I don't think restaurant owners would like to be called industrial partners, but it's. But yes, you're quite right. You're quite right. I'm teasing. You're quite right. No, yes, you're right. It's the first time we were not sending to people at home. And I mean, to be honest, I don't feel very comfortable about that, but I think it's a great product. Why don't you feel comfortable with that? Because I really want to make products for people at home that we all use at home. The good thing is that we use them in a railway station or an airport or restaurant or wherever it is. So at least ordinary people use people like us use it. But I'm far happier when I'm dealing direct with people at home. And were the main value propositions for these industrial partners, these customers, whether they be airports, restaurants or otherwise, the energy costs and labor costs associated with the device so they could justify the higher upfront price by amortizing it over a relatively short period of time and recouping that investment.

Speaking to industrial partners (55:54)

Was that the basic pitch or was there more to it? Well, that wasn't the basic pitch. The basic pitch was it's a very pleasant and quick way to dry your hands without the waste of paper and without the excessive heat of hot air hand dryers, which are very slow anyway and ineffective. And the wonderful thing about our hand dryers is you never run out of paper. I mean, how many times you've gone to try and get a paper out of a paper towel holder and it's not there. And the other thing is it's quite difficult to dry all your hands and dry onto your fingernails with a towel. Whereas ours does that. So it's hygienic, it's quick and it's reasonably pleasurable. You're not damaging your hands. You're not taking the nice oils out of your hands and you're getting on your fingernails. It's slightly noisy. We've got them a quarter now. But actually an architectural practice said they liked the fact that it was noisy because when one of their partners went to the laboratory, you could tell whether they washed their hands or not. That's great. It's the lie detection device and hand dryer all in one. You never know when Harry's not going to wash his hands. You've got to keep an eye out for Harry. If he comes out of a laboratory and you haven't heard the noise, keep away from him. So the air blade, at least from the outside looking in, seems to have been a huge success. Could you share any of your favorite failures?

Dyson's favorite failures (57:45)

And these are devices that actually made it out of the shop and into the real world. Do you have any favorite failures? What I mean by that is a device that was not a commercial success but that offered many lessons or perhaps learnings that led to successes in other areas or later. Does anything come to mind? We really, really have one which is our washing machine. But I don't call it a failure because I think it's a great washing machine. But our mistake was to sell it too cheaply. We didn't charge enough for it in the first place because it has two drums and two drums, two motors, a clutch and very big capacity in a small normal size of washing machine. So it's very expensive to make, I mean more than double the cost to make of an ordinary washing machine. But it was much better. So it could take a very big load. We could wash very quickly with low temperature water because it was introducing proper action. We discovered that if you dried washing with your hands in just a few minutes, you could wash better than you could in a washing machine in an hour and a half or however long they take. We also discovered that cashmere shrinks because of the time it's in the water and the temperature of the water. So if you could do a low temperature wash and do it quickly and do it thoroughly, it's a better washing machine. So ours was much better at washing than a conventional washing machine with its action. And we should have charged a lot more for it. One and only time I've ever listened to the marketing department who said, if you charge less, you will sell more. Actually, we charge less and sold fewer. But we were losing so much money on each one, the board decided to stop it. And that was probably a mistake with hindsight. I mean, we should have put the price back up and carried on with it. It was a big project. I'm in a washing machine. And we were up against people who had been making washing machines for years and years with a much lower cost base. We were starting from scratch with a high cost base. So actually much the same thinking occurred with the car at a much later date, the development of our car. We ran into the same sort of problem. The commercial issues, but the same sort of problem as a startup in that business, our costs were so much higher than an incumbent than the existing competitors. I mean, I'm still using them. And everybody who bought one thinks it's a much better washing machine. It's very disappointing. We've stopped making it, but we lost a lot of money on it and it was a commercial failure. But I think an engineering success.

Making an electric car without preexisting manufacturer infrastructure and supply chains. (01:00:36)

In the case of N526, the electric car, going into it, I would imagine you were aware that compared to incumbents who had the infrastructure in place, distribution channels, et cetera, that you would be fighting an uphill battle with respect to costs and many other things per unit prices, et cetera. Why did you decide to pursue it? Going back to 2013, 2014, when we started, only Tesla was bothering to produce electric cars and they were in the very early phase. The rest of the industry was taking no notice and all the projections by the industry and by commentators were that by 2030, only 3% of global cars would be electric. So no one was bothering to change and the incumbents had heavily committed to diesel petrol engines and existing technology. We thought, "Well, we're starting to scratch. We're not committed to anything. We can do what we like rather as Tesla has done." We've got a lot of very, very clever and intelligent motor engineers. We're developing new technology batteries. We do a lot with air treatment, taking out pollution, heating it and cooling it. And that's really what a car is. It's an electric motor, it's batteries and you've got to do a lot with air efficiently, very efficiently because you've only got battery parts. You don't want to waste your battery on heating or cooling the car. So we thought we were quite well placed to do a car, although we'd never done one before. No other manufacturers were being interested in it. We knew that batteries were far more expensive. Batteries plus electric motors plus the electronics to control the electric motors and the battery management system is far more expensive than an internal combustion engine, as Tesla has proved actually, even with relatively small battery packs, a Tesla is a very expensive car to make. However, we saw that the lack of interest from the incumbents, the rest of the major industry, gave us an opportunity as which indeed Tesla has taken advantage of. And we thought that we could do one that was at the top end. Quite what the top end was. We didn't know back in 2014. All that changed with dieselgate. When dieselgate happened in 2016, 2017, and those people making large quantities of diesel engines got into real trouble. The way out of the trouble from a PR point of view, and I suppose by that stage they saw which way the wind was blowing, but they had to get into electric vehicles fast, so they had to spend a lot of money, completely turn their business around upside down and produce electric vehicles. And that's fine. That meant we would have had competition. We weren't particularly worried, well, one's always worried about competition, but we thought that it'd still be spaced for us. But what was happening was that the electrical vehicles they were producing, they were producing it a loss. But more happy to do that, they were able to do that because they were sending, of course their fleet, they have to produce certain, have certain knocks and socks and missions. So if they had an electric car at one end producing none, they could produce gas guzzling big SUVs at the other end on which they make a lot of money. But overall, they were able to do that without having to buy carbon credits. So I could see that we were going to have to compete against people who were making electric cars at a loss. And I don't want to get into Tesla too much, but Tesla earns quite a lot by sending its carbon credits to other car manufacturers. And they have well-heeled investors. They've been through $25 billion. I don't have $25 billion. I'm privately financed. I don't know. Because I have to make the money I spend on product development. I can't take that sort of risk. So by about 2018, 2019, when we stopped it, it became apparent that it just simply wouldn't work commercially. Plus the fact that our costs, coming back to that point I made earlier about the washing machine, are costs to make a car, even without the complications of the battery management system, batteries and so on, would be 50% higher than a BMW or a Mercedes car or a Volkswagen car production costs. So it was just too risky for us. We would have to charge Aston Martin style prices, but a very good car with a 600 mile range and quite a big car as well with good off-road capability. But it was just too much of a risk. Are there any features of the car that you're particularly proud of or that you would hope to see in the world someday at scale? Curiously, I was a friend of Alex Molten who did the first small wheel bicycle with suspension. Don't you know what I mean? I don't know what you mean. If you wouldn't mind. He developed the Mini with Alex Exagonis. One of the principles of the Mini was that it had very small wheels. The advantage of small wheels is that they don't create a big wheel arch inside the car. So you can make a very small car where the wheel arch is, don't protrude much into the car. So there's room for big adults. And he carried on, but you have to pump the tyres up harder because the wheel is very small. So he then developed a very small wheel bicycle called the Molten Bicycle, which had very small wheels and you have to pump the tyres up incredibly hard. But to overcome the harshness of the ride, he put suspension on it, rubber suspension on it. He was also the person who developed the suspension for the Mini. And I knew all about that and he was a friend of mine. And I actually took the opposite view that the car should have huge wheels. And the reason for that is that a large wheel has less motion resistance. And so it's much more efficient. And that's efficiency for an electric car is all important. So the ability to move along and have the least resistance is what you want. So I discovered the biggest wheel that you can make that way you could replace a tyre at a tyre depot. Because obviously you can't do a wheel where you can't replace a tyre at a tyre depot. I discovered that was what that was. So our car had huge wheels. I mean they're nearly a metre in diameter. They're huge. That was to reduce the motion resistance. But actually it gave a lot of unexpected benefits. So it was better at road holding. It was a more comfortable car because of it. You could relative to the size of the hub, the centre of the wheel. You can actually have quite a big tyre which made it comfortable. And because it had a relatively narrow aspect ratio, it was better in snow and mud. A fat tyre is very slippery in snow and mud. Whereas a thin one has much more grip. And it's less likely to aqua-plane. And when it came to developing the suspension on the road holding, it also turned out to be excellent as well. We had to develop a special tyre for it. And again, I mean we were very ambitious. We developed our own chassis. And if you know anything about making cars, the most expensive and important part of a car is the chassis. We decided that we looked around and see if there was any car companies chassis that we could buy. But none of them fitted with our big wheels and spacing apart our big wheels, putting on the four corners of the vehicle. The molten-tush chassis like that. So we had to develop our own chassis. That was a development cost. I didn't mind that. But I mean Tesla for example didn't develop their own chassis. They went and bought a notice one. In fact, Lotus built their first chassis's basic car initially. But we decided not to do that. I did pile on the cost of it. But I think it made our better car.

Why James never took Investors for Gtech (01:09:00)

I want to come back to privately held. Privately held company. This makes what you do and what you've done all the more interesting and impressive to me. I'm much more familiar with the venture backed startup ecosystem and the roadmap for such a company that involves raising in some cases, as you mentioned, billions of dollars of funding, sometimes tens of billions, then going public and so on and so forth. Have you ever been tempted to become anything other than privately held?

Perspective On Investments And Motivational Thoughts

Why did you find it uncomfortable to to take on investors (01:09:40)

When I did the ballbarrow company, I borrowed money. And then because I couldn't pay it back, I got some investors in. So I became a company, I only have 30% of the shares. So there were other directors. I found that an uncomfortable position. So when I started the vacuum cleaner company, I did go out to venture capitalists. They were called then. I mean, it would now be called private equity, but they were called venture capitalists. And I discovered that I was completely useless at raising money. So I hugely admire people who can go to these people and raise money. I was hopeless at it. None of them were back me. It was during the early 90s, during the big, there was a really big recession in the early 90s, in many ways, much bigger recession than 2008 recession. And the banks had repossessed, were repossessing houses left, right and center. I mean, it was a really terrible crash. Now, I hadn't really approached a clearing bank, which is my normal way of borrowing money. What is a clearing bank? A clearing bank is, we call them high street banks. So it's a banks that lend to consumers predominantly. So the one you'd find in a street where you can go and deposit money. And hopefully take some money out. They got me left. So in desperation, I went to the bank that I banked with. And at first, they said, no, because I wanted to borrow about 400,000 pounds, which has got a lot of money back in early 90s. And my bank managers then appealed to the ombudsman within the head office of the bank. And he managed to persuade them to lend me the money. I had to put up the house of security. But this is a time when they didn't want houses of security because they got themselves very unpopular for checking people out of houses. And they had a huge number of houses on their books. In fact, my particular bank became the state agent in order to try and sell off the houses of the head. So I was absolutely shocked and stunned when they agreed to lend me the money. When I cleared the debt and relationship was on a more even basis with the bank, I did ask the bank manager why he lent me the money. And he said, well, I went to home and asked my wife what she thought of a vacuum cleaner without a bag. And she said, I hate bags. And he said, I saw what you fought a very long lawsuit in the United States. I could see you had determination. So those were the arguments I used within the bank. It was actually really encouraging. It's a good bank story. There were very few good bank stories. And this is one of them. Why did you find it uncomfortable to take on investors and end up with 30% of the company? What about that made you uncomfortable? I didn't think it would make me uncomfortable, but it did. And the reason it made me uncomfortable is that you are, if someone else has put money in and if someone else has shares, you have to listen to them. Well, I felt I had to listen to them. So you're not actually running the company, you're sharing the running of the company. And a lot of decisions will be decisions that they want quite rightly because they've put a lot of money into it. And so it's been a lot of your time wondering about whether this latest idea you have there the prove of and you have to go and get their permission and it has to be done through the auspices of a board meeting. I'd done that. I was a director of a public company selling the high speed landing craft engineering company. Then I had my own company, I had a 30% share in it. And then finally, I was in a position where I could have my own company and make my own decisions. And during the time that I'd been developing a technology before I decided to go to manufacture and commercialize the invention in the early 90s, I had to discover that I liked relying on myself rather than having to be collegiate and share decisions with somebody else. Because it was all down to me. And so the whole risk was mine. I'd evaluate the risk myself and work it out myself. And I just found that a much easier way for me to work. I'm not like that now, I hasten to add, I've matured a bit. And now we do run the company on the collegiate basis. But in the beginning, it was really important and crucial to me that I was all the decisions I was making on the fly, all those things I was making for me. Because I thought it was the right thing to do. That's quite a good way to approach things anyway, I think. I hated being part of a public company, which I was in my first job. So I knew what that was like. The shareholders are always out of tune with what is actually happening in the company, not through any fault of their own. But they can't see into the future like we could as employees of the company. Meaning you had to at least I'm more familiar with the US, but you were captive to the quarter by quarter expectations of shareholders who could not, did not have transparency into the five or 10 year plans of the company itself. Is that what you mean? Pretty much that. I mean, there's no reason why they should believe the gleam in our eye or the new product we're developing. They look at what you like at the moment, who you are and what you like at the moment and what you're talking about in the future. But it always seemed to be out of kilter when we were doing well, the share price was down and the share price was up. We were doing badly and it just seemed to be out of kilter. Again, you're not on your own. You're not making decisions because you believe they're the right decisions. You're making them for sometimes other reasons. What it looks like transparently or whatever, what shareholders might think of it, it's just much better to be one track minded and just thinking entirely about the product. Any developer make products, that's what we do. It's very, in a sense, it's a very simple thing that we do. And it's the product that's important. It's not who I am or what the company is or what it looks like that's important. It's the product going to excite people and do the job properly. That's what matters. That's all that matters actually. It's not completely true because of course employees matter, infusing employees matter and looking after employees, all that matters. But for all of us who are working here, what really matters is that our product works in the marketplace. I would imagine also happy motivated employees and so on. Talented employees are in a sense a byproduct of good products. And then they further help to create good products in the sense that a lot of these things cascade down from a product focus. And you have had a tremendous, just a tremendous run and certainly you have many more things ahead of you.

Your new book, Invention, a Life (01:16:52)

How did you decide to commit your energies to your new book, "Invention, A Life"? This is certainly a commitment of time and energy. How did you decide to focus your energies at least in part on that? Partly because I just wish there were more engineers. I just wish that more young people would find engineering fascinating, interesting and worthwhile. And I think it's particularly true now because everybody is talking about global warming. Everybody is talking about using fewer resources, recyclability and all these sort of things, using less energy, less water. And it's engineers that can make that happen. It's that engineers that can make the world a clean world, a world using less energy, a world using fewer resources and a world recycling things. Engineers and scientists can solve those problems. But the pity is that school children and even people at university don't realize that. People would rather talk about it and do something about it. And I think that's a great shame. So I do think that a lot of people think engineering is hard and difficult, that science is hard and difficult. And of course, perhaps it is, but it's also very creative and people don't see that either. So if I could somehow show through the book that a stupid person like me, a person who's not academically successful and is not brilliant at all, through really caring about products, caring about technology, caring about engineering, can produce products that save energy, that use fewer resources and that work better. Hopefully to achieve what young people want to achieve now, young people want these things. They want cures for horrible diseases like Alzheimer's and cancer. They want products that use less energy, that generate electricity in a clever way. If I could show that I as a simple person, not having done classics at school, could turn my hand to doing some of those things, that maybe other people would think that engineering wasn't this difficult, hard thing that seemed impossible. When you look at something like the Waltman or an iPhone or some extent, Dyson Vec and Kyna, it's inaccessible to young people and products are becoming more and more inaccessible.

The future belongs to the curious (01:19:09)

As a school child, you look at an iPhone or in any piece of clever technology, a jet engine or whatever it is, you don't know how it works and you don't believe that you could ever design one of those or design a better one. But actually you can, you really can. And that's what I wanted this book to try and show, that it is young people who will solve today's and tomorrow's problems. And we can solve them, by the way, without having to make life miserable for all of us. It isn't just the few people who are attracted to engineering who can do it. Many more of us can do it, if we can be motivated to do so and if we can overcome this feeling that it's impossible and that we don't understand it. There's almost an inverse knobbery about technology. There's almost a pride that I don't now to hang a picture or mend a car, whatever it is. It's almost a mark of intellectual superiority. I think the odd verse, it's a mark of lack of intellectual curiosity, not to be able to take something to bit some mend it or not be able to perform a mend a washing machine or a dishwasher whenever it is. I think it's a shame that you're not interested in solving that problem, in repairing it. That's really what the book is about. And the timing is because I've been beaming the lack of engineers for many years and I've continuously going to the government saying, "We're not producing enough engineers. We're not producing." Until finally, the minister in charge of education said, "Well, start your own university. Stop complaining and start your own university." And he was bringing through a bill through the House of the Parliament, which allowed anyone, not anyone, but someone who was able to and with the necessary resources and so on, to start their own university. So I took on the challenge of starting our own university. And the reason I did it was that we almost exclusively recruit graduates at Dyson. And that's what I've always done because I believe in recruiting people with enthusiasm, lack of knowledge, lack of experience, people who are not afraid to make mistakes, not afraid to try a new path. So we've been recruiting all these graduates over many years. Why not recruit undergraduates? And I only did it because, well, because of that, because we have a very young corpus anyway, but also because we cover a very broad field of engineering. I mean, everything from mechanical engineering right through to software and robotics and artificial intelligence. So we have a huge number of disciplines here. And I wouldn't have done it if we had a very narrow field. But because our field was so broad, I felt we could offer the students a good experience. Just for clarity, this is the Dyson Institute of Engineering and Technology? Yes, yes, which is, by the way, just got university status. So we'll shortly be calling ourselves a university. We've won university status. I was also horrified, actually, that the amount of money young people have to borrow in order to go to university for living expenses and the fees they have to pay. So at the very point in their life when they want to get married and buy a car and buy a house and live normally, let's settle with this huge debt. So I could see that our students, I would pay them. I would pay for their education. They would work for me for part of the time and they would have the excitement of practicing what they're learning in theory and learning from what I think the best scientists in the world, best engineers in the world at Dyson. They would have wonderful mentors, wonderful hands, but not academic lecturers at university. They would have hands-on battery development scientists, electric motors, scientists, software people, art of it, and intelligence and robotics people, all these people are here. They can talk to them and learn from them and experience all those fields and decide, be much more knowledge what they want to do. And in fact, half of them are becoming software engineers because the world needs so many software engineers and they find software fascinating and the others want to do mechanical engineering or electrical engineering.

Start with naive questions (01:23:39)

It's actually been a very happy experiment. I thoroughly enjoyed it and I think students have as well. So the timing of the book is because, sorry, this is a really long story. Our first year, it's a four-year course and our first year has just graduated and the graduation ceremony will be in September. So I wanted the book to come out at that time and the theme of the book is really that you don't have to be an expert and in fact experts are often unhelpful. You have to have enthusiasm, curiosity, thirst for knowledge and determination and those are the things that will solve all the world's problems. I'm very excited on multiple fronts to see what you, what the university, what this book does and as you just said, I think it will foster all of those things you just mentioned, including the book will foster more engineers, it will encourage more people to embrace engineering but above and beyond that it will help people through your stories, through your lessons learned, through the principles reflected in the book to think like an engineer and to become more curious, ask better questions even if they don't have, even if they will never have any formal engineering training. That's certainly true for me. I didn't study classics but I majored in East Asian studies which has about as much application to engineering as would classics and still in the process of preparing for this conversation and reading more about you, looking at the book was struck by just how cross-disciplinary and how adaptable many of the principles are in the book to include and not exclude also those people who might look at themselves as hopeless liberal arts majors or something along those lines. So I'm excited for it. I always think the best questions are naive questions which is why I love employing students or graduates and students because they start you off on a different train because the trouble with experience is you know how to do things, well, I mean you know how to do some things and experience is a baggage that can get in the way and what you need is someone saying why? Why is it like that? Why do you have to do it like that? And it stops you dead in your tracks and you say it forces you to not follow the path that everybody else follows and students and graduates have no fear of pioneering. They've got nothing to lose. One thing I hope that we encourage here is that failure is not a failure. If you go on doing the same thing and making the same mistake, that's not a good idea that failing once or twice in trying to do one thing is okay, nothing wrong with that. We all learn from that. You know I don't think they teach that enough at school or at university for that matter. I mean it came, for example, they didn't have a machine shop and an assembly shop where the students could do their own projects. They didn't have that. It was all theoretical. And actually we gave Cambridge some money to build a workshop so that the students could build their ideas. Through building things, using your hands, actually building your prototypes. I mean our engineers at Dyson build their own prototypes, they build their own test rigs. And it's through that building of the test rig and the prototype. Don't give it to someone else to build, to a assistant to build, you go and build it yourself. And it's through the building of the prototype and the testing it yourself. That of course you see you experience the failure but you learn how you might change it and improve it. That's what I saw you see through my 5,127 prototypes.

Billboard quote (01:27:45)

Each prototype I built myself and tested myself. And it was through that total involvement that my brain started to think, how do I solve that problem? How do I solve that problem? And that, funny enough, it's the actual making it with your own hands is terribly important. And you know we were given hands and a brain and you should use both at the same time. What's wrong with that? It's not a, using your hands is not a lowly activity. It's useful. It's always done. Yes. I can't recall the exact expression but how our tools shape us and that's only true or I suppose it's always true but it means that perhaps you should use a tool other than a keyboard sometimes. Yes, very much so. Very much so. But they're all slaves to it, aren't they? Well I am extremely excited about the book. You want to get in the book is invention subtitle A Life. And I have one more question before we go before we wrap up this first conversation. And sometimes this question is a dead end and I'll take the blame for that if it is but I like to ask it nonetheless and that is if you had a billboard metaphorically speaking on which you could put any quote could be yours, someone else's, any phrase, word, image, question, anything at all to impart a message to many people. What might you put on that billboard? Well I'd probably put two messages. One is there's nothing wrong in always being dissatisfied, always through improvement and the other is drop your fear of failure. Don't be afraid of failure. So am I allowed to build those? You are allowed to build one. I hope we haven't gone down a dead end. God forbid that we get down a dead end. Well you know I guess I would be on theme. We could have just asked another question. I could have changed that question and asked it again and iterated. But we happened to get it right the first time like the jet engine which is an incredible story. I had never heard that before. And what an enjoyable conversation. I really appreciate you taking the time today.

Outro (01:30:11)

Thank you very much. Good questions, an enjoyable question. And perhaps someday we'll get to see you in person across the pond. But in the meantime I wish you tremendous luck with everything that you're engaged with which is a lot including the launch of the book. Everyone should check it out. Invention, subtitle, Life, Sir James Dyson. Thank you again for taking the time and being so thoughtful in your answers. I really think people will benefit from this. And to everyone listening we will have show notes with links to all resources, all people, everything mentioned in this episode as usual at And until next time get your hands dirty, experiment often, ask why, why, why, and thank you for tuning in. Hey guys, this is Tim again just a few more things before you take off.

Miscellaneous Topics

Small challenges (01:31:01)

Number one, this is Phyble at Friday. Do you want to get a short email from me? Would you enjoy getting a short email from me every Friday that provides a little morsel of fun for the weekend? And Phyble at Friday is a very short email where I share the coolest things I've found or that I've been pondering over the week. That could include favorite new albums that I've discovered. It could include gizmos and gadgets and all sorts of weird shit that I've somehow dug up in the world of the esoteric as I do. It could include favorite articles that I've read and that I've shared with my close friends for instance. And it's very short. It's just a little tiny bite of goodness before you head off for the weekend. So if you want to receive that, check it out. Just go to That's I'll spell it out and just drop in your email and you will get the very next one. And if you sign up, I hope you enjoy it. This episode is brought to you by Theragon.

The Theragun (01:32:03)

I have two Theragons and they're worth their weight in gold. I've been using them every single day. Whether you're an elite athlete or just a regular person trying to get through your day, muscle pain and muscle tension are real things. That's why I use the Theragon. I use it at night. I use it after workouts. It is a handheld percussive therapy device that releases your deepest muscle tension. So for instance, at night I might use it on the bottom of my feet. It's helped with my plantar fasciitis. I will have my girlfriend use it up and down the middle of my back and I'll use it on her. It's an easy way for us to actually trade massages in effect. And you can think of it in fact as massagerie invented on some level. Helps with performance, helps with recovery, helps with just getting your back to feel better before bed after you've been sitting for way too many hours. I love this. The all new Gen 4 Theragon has a proprietary brushless motor that is surprisingly quiet. It's easy to use and about as quiet as an electric toothbrush. It's pretty astonishing. You really have to feel the Theragon's signature power amplitude and effectiveness to believe it. It's one of my favorite gadgets in my house at this point. So I encourage you to check it out. Try Theragon. That's Thera T-H-E-R-A-G-U-N. There's no substitute for the Gen 4 Theragon with an OLED screen. It's OLED for those wondering. That's organic light emitting diode screen. Personalized Theragon app. An incredible combination of quiet and power. And the Gen 4 Theragons start at just $199. I said I have two. I have the Prime and I also have the Pro which is like the super Cadillac version. My girlfriend loves these soft attachments. On that, so try Theragon for 30 days starting at only $199. Go to right now and get your Gen 4 Theragon today. One more time, that's THERABODY.COM/Tim.

Blockfi Overview

BlockFi (01:34:07)

This episode is brought to you by BlockFi. BlockFi is building a bridge between cryptocurrencies and traditional financial and wealth management and products. They're creating innovative products to advance the digital asset ecosystem for both individual and institutional investors. And its platform now manages more than 12 billion in assets. Full disclosure, I became excited enough about this company that I ended up becoming an investor. But moving on, BlockFi, that's BLOCKFI, offers a wide spectrum of services and I'll mention just a few here. First, their BlockFi rewards Visa Signature Credit Card provides an easy way to earn more Bitcoin because you can earn 3.5% in Bitcoin back on all purchases in your first 3 months and 1.5% forever after with no annual fee. Second, BlockFi also its clients, that would be you, easily buy yourself cryptocurrencies, including but not limited to the wide selection, Bitcoin, Ether, Litecoin and PaxG, as well as USD that's United States dollars based stablecoins including USDC, GUSD and Pax. BlockFi aggregates liquidity to offer seamless trade execution and pricing. BlockFi also offers instant ACH so you can move funds onto the platform and immediately start trading. On their platform, you will soon be able to trade with ACH, meaning you'll be able to buy cryptocurrencies directly with your bank account and there's a lot more coming. So check it out, for a limited time you can earn a crypto bonus of $15 to $250 in value. Again, for a limited time you can earn a crypto bonus of $15 to $250 in value when you open a new account. Start today at and use code TIM at signup. That's and code TIM.

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