Failure Happens Inside Of A Vacuum
I want to talk to you today about a guy named James. James had an idea, an idea for an invention and he worked tirelessly on the prototype that didn’t work and he did the second one and the third one, and by the time he got to the 15th prototype their third child was born, but the prototype still was nowhere close to finished. I won’t bore you with the gory details, but somewhere around the 2,500th prototype of this one invention, him and his wife were just around broke. More than a thousand prototypes later, his wife was giving art lessons so they can make a little bit of extra money. He became obsessed through those years of doing nothing but making and testing these prototypes. His wife kept supporting the family and she supported this idea, but everybody else thought he was crazy. Things started getting really tight. They started going deeper in debt and his wife started making their clothes for their children and growing their own vegetables in the backyard.
The prototypes though kept piling up to over 3000 tries and then 4,000 tries. He tried meeting with the companies that would eventually become his competitors, but they eventually turned them down. Most of them saying that they weren’t interested in this technological advances years later as he was still working to make this thing a reality. Other companies who he had met with had started making machines just like he was trying to make legal battles now in sued to try to protect his own patents. In 1993, 14 years after he started working on this crazy idea, no banks or venture capitalists would even lend them any money. Eventually his bank manager personally lobbied Lloyd’s bank to lend him the million dollars he needed for tooling on the product and then he finally got a mail order catalog to buy it. This was now after 5,127 prototypes. Then with a little bit of momentum, a British department store began selling it and within two years it was the number one selling product in that genre.
By 2002 they finally got their first U S customer, which was Best Buy. This was twenty three years after the original prototype and not long after James Dyson’s dream to create the ultimate vacuum cleaner was now on its way to reality and that idea, that passion, those 5,127 prototypes turn Dyson into $1 billion business. There are so many incredible lessons from the story. It’s a big, big business, but it’s going to the independent heart. Dyson from the very beginning kept all the shares of his company. He owned 100% and that’s on purpose and it’s not because of money. He wanted to create the best vacuum that he can create and he only wanted to think about the products and not to worry about the shareholders. He said in that sense, they’re completely free. He believes that the product is the king. He also said to keep your ears open for the silly suggestions from the people around you.
So many of the great ideas that came from either the building or the marketing of the Dyson vacuum came from what should have been silly or wrong suggestions from others that were tweaked or used for the success of the company. And through everything he went through all those years through people trying to steal his idea or all the rejections that came from so many different areas that galvanized him. He said to do it himself and he knows what he’s selling is an expensive vacuum. You can get so many different vacuums cheaper, but he wanted to build it differently. Unlike so many household appliances that are made for the short term that break so easily that years ago they would last for so long. Now we know they last a couple of years and then they’re done. He knew that people are going to keep cleaning their homes and they want to buy things that will last longer.
So he said, we’ve got to make sure the product is right and this story is why I love entrepreneurism so much because this is how things get done. When we have personal responsibility for what we want to achieve and what we want to build, things get done. And it’s why there’s so much waste and delay and slow movement in government and bureaucratic environments, and it’s the nimble, free moving entrepreneur that will find a way to get things done, even if it takes over 5,000 tries over multiple decades. Because when the skin in the game is your own skin, there’s a passion and drive that will push you further than a command from a supervisor. I bring this story to you because you might be on the verge of quitting something that you feel like you’re done, but you really might not have even started yet.
If you go by this story, Dyson had over 5,000 reasons to quit. He was obviously a smart guy. He could’ve done something else to make money, but he didn’t quit because he believed in it and you wanted to make it happen and that fire of rejection kept him moving strong. We talk about it so much. Let rejection fuel you and we’re taught so often in school that failure and rejection is a bad thing, but it’s one of the best ways to grow. It’s one of the best ways to learn and these stories inspire me because when things are going rough and things are not going the way that I think they should, I think about people like Dyson. I think about how hard it must’ve been in 1983 or 1988 what it was like eating dinner with his kids after the 2000 prototype wasn’t good.
What were the conversations going on at that dinner table? Somehow, I don’t think he’s complaining about the government or quitting because people are going against him. All that made him stronger. And that’s what we all need from you. Because if you believe in what you’re doing as strongly as Dyson believed in his vacuum, this is proof to show that the payoff will be there if you don’t stop moving. And it’s funny researching this story and now telling the story, because I still remember the pain when Elizabeth came to me telling me she wanted to buy a vacuum that was $500 I thought she was crazy. Who spends $500 for a vacuum, but she said all the same things that Dyson described here. And she sold me on the fact that we’re going to have this thing for years and it’s going to work better than any other vacuum we’ve had. And all these years later, aside from a couple of parts that needs to be exchanged, we’re still using it and it still works wonderful. So we appreciate all the effort he put into making this.
I’ll be back with you tomorrow.