James Dyson Explains His First Vacuum (1983)


Here is a young James Dyson (founder of Dyson) explaining his first vacuum and how hard it is to invent and scale an idea. I’ve also posted the first half of the transcript below the video.

Question: It’s a very big step from going from a good idea to building a prototype to getting it into manufacturer. How big is that step and what does it take?

Dyson: The idea is about 0.5%, prototype is maybe 3%, getting it into production is the rest of it.

Question: Tell me about the problems you’ve had in actually getting this into production?

Dyson: The first problem was making it and developing it and that took about three years of research and just simply working away, and away, and away building model after model after model and once I got the system to work and had patented it. I then went around to manufacturers trying to sell the idea because I didn’t have the money to put the thing into production and of course, that took quite a long time. It took about six to nine months.

Question: You say you didn’t have the money but what sort of money is involved in securing the patents, putting it into production?

Dyson: The patents are relatively the cheap part. We spent about 30,000 pounds upfront on the patents but to put into production cost about half a million. That’s just to get one made to get it to this stage. It’s before you start permitting it and selling it and so on. So it’s very heavy investment.

Question: Now I think I’m right in saying that you’ve actually persuaded an Italian manufacturer to put that into production. Did you not try and sell it here in Britain?

Dyson: Yes Yes. I tried three British companies and a number of other European companies. The English companies turned it down because it didn’t have paper bags and paper bags are a very lucrative source of income.

Question: Perhaps you should just explain at this point how it does work and how it’s different.

Dyson: Yes, in all other vacuum cleaners have paper bags or filters and the problems with those is that they are clogged with dust very quickly. The normal vacuum cleaners are down to one third their suction after about five minutes. This one separates the dirt from the air by cyclonic action. The centrifugal force. And the dust is collected down in this plastic container here and you just empty that out.

Question: So even though it was so much more efficient, the British manufacturers didn’t want to take it up and I still don’t really understand why you say no bags but I’d have thought that would be a tremendous bonus?

Dyson: Yes, but it’s a big marketing step if you’ve been selling vacuum cleaners with paper bags for years then it’s suddenly a huge jump to say, “Well, we don’t need paper bags. All we use is the container.”

Question: And presumably somebody who’s selling paper bags loses quite a lot of money.

Dyson: Exactly exactly it’s the resale.

Question: You’re now going to sell it how? What’s going to be your manufacturing outlet in this country? Is it going through the shops? How can we get [00:03:30] hold of one of these wonderful machines?

Dyson: It’s initially being sold in England direct door to door and it lends itself quite nicely to that because it’s terribly good on demonstrations.

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