Over the years, I've been referred to as an entrepreneur, a term usually linked with the business world. As an engineer, I used to find that peculiar. However, it derives from the French verb entreprendre which means 'to undertake' or simply 'to do.' As my days are filled with 'doing,' perhaps I am one after all. And if we apply the same principle to other engineers, people like Thomas Edison or Kenneth Grange- the 'do-ers' behind some of the most useful and commercially successful products of the 20th and 21st centuries- I'm in good entrepreneurial company.
Here are some of the lessons I've picked up through trial and error which I'd offer to would-be entrepreneurs.
1. Trust Your Own Instincts
Stand by your idea. I wanted a clear bin on my machine because I believed people would want to see evidence of how their machine performed; in other words how much dirt was being picked up. Market research told me I was wrong. Some people thought I was mad, and one retailer even requested that the bin be frosted before they sold it. A few months later they acquiesced, admitting that people were coming into the shop asking for a Dyson with a clear bin.
2. Take Calculated Risks
Research from Cambridge University in the U.K. found that entrepreneurs' brains were more active in the region responsible for making "risky" decisions. This trait becomes even more crucial while we're in the midst of an economic downturn. I would argue that it's a perfect time to take a risk, since you've got a chance to get ahead of the competition while they're hibernating, waiting for good times to return. Dyson actually started in a recession, launching DC01 in 1993. Through economic ups and downs, we've continued to invest in the calculated risk of invention, and it's paid off.
3. Be An Innovator
When some people think of an entrepreneur, they think of someone who has found a gap in the market which they are able to exploit- a quick fix to make a fast buck. But that's not enough for enduring success. You need to make sure that your product is different and better than anything else out there. People want value for money and will pay a premium if they can see that they're getting a superior design that will last. Long-term success requires something that's genu- inely different and better.
4. If You Can, Do It On Your Own
I spent years trying to convince large multinationals about cyclone technology for vacuum cleaners. Some were worried it would affect their lucrative bag sales. The fact that it worked better was irrelevant- they just wanted to play it safe and protect what they had. As the companies had grown ever bigger, their appetite for risk had shrunk. Fundamentally, they were business people, not designers or engineers, and numbers took priority over ideas. In the end, I funded and manufactured the dual cyclone vacuum cleaner myself. It can be tough and it can get very lonely, but the rewards are greater than signing away your hard work to someone else. If you show total belief in your invention it helps others to catch on.
5. Never Give Up
You have to be persistent, determined- dogged even. It took five years and 5127 prototypes before the Dyson vacuum cleaner was ready for market. Success doesn't come overnight, and it may take months or even years to see your idea come to fruition. And you don't stop there. We could easily hang our tools up, safe in the knowledge that we've solved the problem. Our work here is done, let's go home. But the entrepreneurial spirit throughout Dyson has ensured that this has not, and will never, happen. We'll continue to innovate and push our technology forward. After 12 years of designing new technology for vacuum cleaners, we moved into completely unknown territory with the Dyson AirbladeTM hand dryer. We've tackled bladeless fans and digital motors. There is an entrepreneurial 'can-do' attitude that defines us as an organiza- tion. Who knows what else we'll turn our attention to in the coming years. There are plenty more problems to solve