4 Business Lessons For Entrepreneurs From Breaking Bad
If you know me.…I mean really know me, than you know I love coffee, traveling, family, everything entrepreneurship and that I’m a fanatic fan of Games of Throne and Breaking Bad. You can learn so much about entrepreneurship from Walter White, Jesse Pinkman and my favorite character of them all, mister serial entrepreneur himself, Gustavo Fring.
I know that some of you reading this might think I’m a little crazy. You might be asking yourself “is this guy really going to compare an illegal meth business to best practices in entrepreneurs?” No! I actually am going to compare an “illegal meth empire” to best practices in a startup creation.” Yes there is a big difference between the two. After this blog, I anticipate the local college asking me to stop teaching entrepreneurship. So on that note, we are going to have some fun.
# 1. Creating a unique product
Walter started off as this desperate science teacher with cancer that thought it would be a good idea to finance his cancer treatment with money raised from cooking meth. While that plot sounds interesting enough to watch the show, it was Walter’s desperation, anal-retentiveness to detail and specialization in science and chemistry that helped him to create a unique product that made him rich.
There is a big difference between an inventor and the entrepreneur. I would argue that Walter started off as the inventor. He eventually evolved into an entrepreneur when he saw an opportunity to create something unique that was different from other products out there.
When his competitors were happy with just hitting that 60%-80% purity mark, Walter focused all his energy in trying to get that 99% zero defect – Yes, I am throwing some Six Sigma/TQM bombs in there. His product was also uniquely blue – people wanted the blue pill – branding anyone!
# 2. Developing an all star team
One of the first things I learned about entrepreneurship from all of my interviews and research, “you can’t do it all by yourself.” While Walter had the intelligence and vision, he knew he did not have the connection in distribution nor the business experience. Jesse was his only option, but after working with other cooks, Walter quickly realized that the chemistry he had with Jesse could not be replaced.
I used the word “develop” and not “create” because you have to teach, coach and mentor people on your team. Jesse started off as being the wild and crazy white thug from the trailer park, but he eventually matured to the more reasonable, conscious and patient of the crew.
Jesse became the voice of reason that tried to get Walter to retire from the business towards the last few seasons. He went from dropping the “bitch” bomb 100-200 times per show to only saying it 60-90 times towards the final season.
# 3. Be careful with who you partner with
As Walter and Jesse’s meth empire started to grow so did the interest in buyout and partnerships from competition and investors. This is when things really got interesting. This is when Gustavo Fring, a local entrepreneur that owned several different franchises and properties came into the picture. Gustavo had the money, business experience, resource, connections and a calmness that seemed unbreakable.
Walter was so desperate to grow his business and impressed with Gustavo that he did not do any background checks on him. What we come to know about Gustavo was that he is a straight up gangster and killer: connected with the cartel, gangs and assassins, and he controlled one of the largest meth distribution operations in the State. Gustavo was like Steve Jobs and Scarface combined.
By partnering with Gustavo, Walter and Jesse got caught in the war against drugs cross fire between the cartel and the DEA. Not to mention that Gustavo tried to kill both Walter and Jesse on several occasions – beware of the hostile takeover from investors and do a background check.
# 4. Have an exit plan ready
The original business plan did have an exit strategy. Walter only wanted to make enough money to cover his hospital bills and leave money for his family. But after hitting his target goals, his health improving, acquiring a legit business and having millions of dollars hidden under his house, Walter lost sight of why he started the business in the first place and refused to retire.
Even after his marriage fell apart, friends were dying all around him, his associates were plotting against him and the police and DEA closing in, Walter was obsessed with keeping the business alive. His hubris took over and became his Achilles’s heel. Walter lost his moral compass, sight of who he was and what he was about. The business consumed him. The moral of the story – always have an exit strategy ready in case the cartel and DEA come after you.
There are so many examples of lessons learned that can be taken from the show. I could have written an entire blog just on the accounting and finance lessons alone. I could have developed an entire MBA curriculum referencing the show.
If you have not watched any of the Breaking Bad episodes and you are at least 18 years old, I recommend you watch the show with your notebook and business plan ready. Consider it an extreme entrepreneurship makeover using dramatization hosted by Heisenberg. You will know who Heisenberg is after a few seasons – say my name. Yes you know my name.
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