Listen now on
#300 James Dyson (Against the Odds)
April 24th, 2023 | E300

What I learned from reading Against the Odds: An Autobiography by James Dyson for the 4th time. You can also find the book on Book Finder


Come see a live show with me and Patrick O'Shaughnessy from Invest Like The Best on October 19th in New York City. 

Get your tickets here


This episode is brought to you by Meter: Meter is the easiest way for your business to get fast, secure, and reliable internet and WiFi in any commercial space. Go to


This episode is brought to you by Tiny: Tiny is the easiest way to sell your business. Tiny provides quick and straightforward exits for Founders.  


Follow one of my favorite podcasts Invest Like The Best and listen to episode 293 David Senra: Passion and Pain 


[4:30] Invention: A Life by James Dyson (Founders #205)

[2:41] I am a creator of products, a builder of things, and my name appears on them. That is how I make a living and they are what have made my name at least familiar in a million homes.

[11:00] Isambard Kingdom Brunel: The Definitive Biography of The Engineer, Visionary, and Great Briton by L.T.C. Rolt. (Founders #201)

[13:10] After the idea there is plenty of time to learn the technology. My first cyclonic vacuum cleaner was built out of cereal packets and masking tape long before I understood how it worked.

[14:15] Difference for the sake of it. In everything. Because it must be better. From the moment the idea strikes, to the running of the business. Difference, and retention of total control.

[18:00] I would not be dragged into something I didn't want to do.

[22:40] They were all running round and round the track like a herd of sheep and not getting any quicker. Difference itself was making me come in first.

[23:34] As I grew more and more neurotic about being caught from behind I trained harder to stay in front. To this day it is the fear of failure, more than anything else, which makes me keep working at success.

[27:20] Isambard Kingdom Brunel was unable to think small, and nothing was a barrier to him. The mere fact that something had never been one before presented, to Brunel, no suggestion that the doing of it was impossible.

He was fired by an inner strength and self-belief almost impossible to imagine in this feckless age.

While I could never lay claim to the genius of a man like that —I have tried to be as confident in my vision as he was.

And at times in my life when I have encountered difficulty and self-doubt I have looked to his example to fire me on.

[30:33] The vision of a single man pursued with dogged determination that was nothing less than obsession.

[36:30] The root principle was to do things your way. It didn't matter how other people did it.

[41:38] You simply cannot mix your messages when selling something new. A consumer can barely handle one great new idea, let alone two, or even several.

[49:30] A direct relationship with the customer is the holy grail. Do not abandon it.

[52:00] One of the strains of this book is about control. If you have the intimate knowledge of a product that comes with dreaming it up and then designing it, I have been trying to say, then you will be the better able to sell it and then, reciprocally, to go back to it and improve it. From there you are in the best possible position to convince others of its greatness and to inspire others to give their very best efforts to developing it, and to remain true to it, and to see it through all the way to its optimum point. To total fruition, if you like.

[1:02:20] Before I went into production with the dual cyclone I had built 5,127 prototypes.

[1:02:30] There is no such thing as a quantum leap. There is only dogged persistence – and in the end you make it look like a quantum leap.

[1:03:30] While it is easy, of course, for me to celebrate my doggedness now and say that it is all you need to succeed, the truth is that it demoralized me terribly. I would crawl into the house every night covered in dust after a long day, exhausted and depressed because that day's cyclone had not worked. There were times when I thought it would never work, that I would keep on making cyclone after cyclone, never going forwards, never going backwards, until I died.

[1:06:20] I was broke, hungry and depressed. The outlook was very dreary. My doggedness and self-belief in the absence of any real evidence that they were justified was beginning to look more and more like insanity.

[1:10:30] Persistent trial and error allows them to wake up one morning after many, many mornings with a world beating product.

[1:13:15] I began to consider forgetting the whole thing and doing something else with my life.

[1:16:00] The poor buggers were so wrong, to think that designers knew nothing about business, or about marketing, or is about selling. It is the people who make the things that understand them, and understand what the public wants.

[1:21:30] Go further. There is nothing wrong with making the consumer laugh. Conventional looks do not make a product more marketable.

Subscribe to listen to Founders Premium — Subscribers can ask me questions directly and listen to Ask Me Anything (AMA) episodes.


Join my free email newsletter to get my top 10 highlights from every book


I use Readwise to organize and remember everything I read. You can try Readwise for 60 days for free here.  


I have listened to every episode released and look forward to every episode that comes out. The only criticism I would have is that after each podcast I usually want to buy the book because I am interested so my poor wallet suffers. ” — Gareth

Be like Gareth. Buy a book: All the books featured on Founders Podcast