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Startup lessons from Breaking Bad

By October 7, 2013No Comments3 min read

With the recent culmination of AMC’s epic TV series Breaking Bad, I thought it would be a fun exercise to see the business lessons that our favorite chemist can impart upon us. Note, this is intended as a tongue-in-cheek lesson; Walter White was a sociopath, so we shouldn’t aspire to follow in his footsteps.

1. Understand your product
Early on in the series Walter is exposed via his brother in law, Hank, to the state of the meth market in Albuquerque. Prior to that moment, Walter was simply a desperate chemistry teacher whom life has repeatedly dealt some shitty hands to. Before Walter cooks any meth at all, he studies the market and asks questions of the market. He even goes along on a ride-along to learn how a meth-lab works. Walter finds a product with a clear and healthy demand, and figures out how to provide the market with a better product.

2. Understand your market
In the first episode of the show we can tell that Walter knows he can cook, but doesn’t yet know how to do business in his newfound market. He realizes he needs a partner, and that is why he seeks out Jesse. Jesse is Walter’s key to distribution. What good is a great product if you can’t get it into your customers hands? Jesse also handles the marketing for the blue meth when he brings in his lackeys to distribute.

Eventually we see Walter navigate through the underbelly of the drug cartels and move up tier by tier changing partners and getting more and more innovative when it comes to production and distribution.

3. Never underestimate your competition
A few times throughout the earlier seasons, Walter gets into deep shit, only to survive on pure luck alone. He gets into these situations because he underestimates his competition, be it Gustavo Fring, the cartel, Tuco Salamanca, or others. This lesson he quickly learns, and you can see by the later seasons as his wealth grows exponentially, it has a lot to do with his ability to over think and over-estimate his enemies.

4. Protect your intellectual property
By controlling the access to the blue, and never sharing his recipe outside of his trusted circle, Walter is able to keep a hold on his market the same way Coca Cola has for all these years. Several times throughout the series we see imitators attempt to copy his product, but they are never quite the same or as high quality. Startups can learn from this. Don’t be afraid to not give it all away, if you’ve got something special that others can’t easily replicate, don’t be afraid to charge for it.

I really wanted to come up with some more lessons, but its not that easy to translate business lessons from an entrepreneur who operates in a market with zero rules to startups operating in the normal world.