Q: Dyson’s first dual cyclone became the highest selling vacuum cleaner in the UK in 18 months. Were you experienced in business to be involved in managing the marketing/production/business side of the venture or did you have a team of advisors?
A: I didn’t set out to be a vacuum cleaner manufacturer. I am an engineer. It was only after being knocked back by the major manufacturers I decided to go it alone. I knew this technology solved the problem of vacuum cleaners losing suction, and I wanted people to have access to this. If I was frustrated, I was sure others were too. I had business experience when I started Dyson. But at the time I couldn’t afford to pay a team of advisors. Now I have a team around me that helps launch the technology that we develop in our research, design and development centre.
Q: The sales of the first model were successful. With many established competitors already crowding the UK market prior to launch, how did you approach the marketing side?
A: We have always been engineers. Not marketers.. We communicate design, technology and engineering rather than create empty lifestyle choices. The important thing is that the technology works better than anything else.
Q: How does Dyson continue to come up with innovative and modern designs of existing products, like the fans for example?
A: Often, as with the first Dyson vacuum cleaner, ideas come from a frustration. But designing a solution to the problem and proving it is more difficult. That’s invention. And other times, one idea leads to another. The Dyson Airblade™ Hand Dryer came about after a team of engineers were working on a Dyson Digital Motor project and noticed that the air blew water off their hands. The idea developed from this. The machine launched about two years later.
Q: You took a risk with the decision to go ahead with the clear bin despite negative market research. How important is it for companies to take a strategic risk from time to time?
A: The Dyson clear bin was given a resounding thumbs-down in research. People said they did not like the dirt being visible in the bin in case a visitor saw how much dirt was in their home. Retailers did not want dust on display in their demonstration machines. Sometimes you have to take a risk. I felt compelled to launch with a clear bin. I thought it was important you could see when it was full. And what better way to show efficiency than seeing the dirt collected. Many other companies have made calculated risks, even when research or business advice may have had them do otherwise. I’m sure someone said that the iPod would never take off. Risk is a word many companies don’t like, but considered risk is what provides the big leaps forward.
Q: What areas of the company did you find most challenging to establish from a business perspective?
A: When I started out, I tried every vacuum cleaner manufacturer with a view to licensing the product. Nobody was interested. So, the most difficult thing was getting people to believe in the technology when they were making around $500m a year from bags.
Q: How has Dyson transformed as a company (since when you could not get anyone to license the technology, to now, being acknowledged as a leader in appliance technology)?
A: We’re now an adolescent company, with around 3600 people across the globe.. And 80% of our machines are sold in markets outside the UK compared to just 30% five years ago. But we’ve managed to keep an energetic spirit. Of course the advantage is we make technology better; we never get complacent. We learn a lot by making mistakes. After all it’s these initial failures that fuel good ideas, and solve problems. That’s why I like hiring graduates – they’re naïve and approach ideas from a fresh perspective, unscarred by reactions to previous mistakes.
Q: What research does Dyson do in order to design and produce new technology solutions to satisfy target consumer requirements?
A: People don’t necessarily know what could be possible. The fans are a good example of how product innovation comes about. We didn’t set out to reinvent the fan. The idea came about when teams of engineers were working on Dyson Airblade technology. Air’s physical principles, it follows the curve of an airfoil, can be induced, entrained and manipulated. The idea of using these as the basis for a fan was suggested as a concept. A prototype was built. The concept was proved. But that meant the work was just beginning. To develop our Dyson Hot + Cool™ fan heater took three years extensive research, development and testing of Dyson’s patented Air Multiplier™ technology by a team of 22 engineers– including experts in thermo dynamics and fluid mechanics, to resolve its application in a heater. Now we have a new category of Dyson products that resolves a number of problems of conventional heaters.
Q: The Dyson company brand’s itself as an innovative/creative company. Does the ‘company culture’ reflect this?
A: Invention, engineering and technology form Dyson’s core. It’s where our machines originate and it underpins the way we act and communicate everyday; whether you’re an engineer, in marketing, finance or on the board.