Breaking Bad was a show that launched ten years ago by AMC giving a weird pitch. A series about a science teacher battling lung cancer who teams up with an old student and starts selling crystal meth to pay for treatments and leave his family money. The show while getting to a slow start quickly became a cultural juggernaut being so relevant that it just had to appear everywhere. It lead to the successful spin off Better Call Saul and is now having a movie made to be a sequel to the series. However, while we learned lessons of Walter White as the villain, the chemist, the cartel owner and sociopathic family man, we forgot another lesson. Walter White the entrepreneur.
The show for all the darkness, exciting scenes and more can actually hold some serious lessons for anyone wanting to take a startup and built it as an exit plan. Having watched random episodes again during the day after Thanksgiving, I feel like I’ve found the five most compelling lessons for every entrepreneur to take note of be it selling meth or selling microchips.
Lesson One-Pick Co-Founders Carefully
In business, one of the biggest mistakes I’ve made and others make is just picking any random person to be a partner. There’s almost this satisfaction of hearing someone say “Let’s do it! 50/50!”. It’s this validation where a person likes the plan you have and wants to work with you as an equal.
With Breaking Bad, it’s undeniable that Walter White probably rushed the co-founder part of the situation and got stuck with Jesse Pinkman. Jesse was mentally not very easy to control, couldn’t cook meth that well and wasn’t even good at distribution. This lead to countless mistakes and problems in the series where they lost and lost big.
In truth, Walter White could have had another co-founder option from the point of view of someone he didn’t know, but could have quickly called in Saul Goodman. Saul had a background different from Walt in the sense he was a legal mind to Walt being a scientific one. He had all the contacts in place for production, security, distribution, supplies and more. He was also always there. However, Walt had no idea who he was and just went with Jesse being the first person he could find.
With that, it’s just an early lesson Breaking Bad can find for startups and founders. A co-founder is probably the most important thing and needs to be an equal value add. Do not just pick the first person to say yes.
Lesson Two-Only Deal With The Best
A lot of the times when I do a project, I tend to not aim for trying to do work with the best people I can find. I start a project and think I’m here and others are there. I never really see it as just us all being people and we need to be part of an opportunity. It is why when working on a project, I’ve found myself calling random people who are barely a step above me to work together and not work with much better names.
For Walter White, he found himself in the first season working with Tuco Salamanca. Tuco was a mentally unstable person who wasn’t even that powerful as a drug dealer. Tuco nearly killed them several times and was a penny to what Gus could offer. This is a clear mistake for Walt where if he just made his product and approached the best earlier on, he’d have had success.
Lesson Three-Just Accept Your Family Probably Sucks
Breaking Bad as a series could probably be defined as the place where the villains were loved, but the family dealing with their father figure being a dying sociopath were hated. One struggle Walter White had was his family just simply didn’t get the life. Walter constantly let it bother him that his son, wife and family didn’t care for the facts that went with the job.
For doing a startup, it’s just a fact family will probably always be unhappy. They won’t get the job, won’t get the hours and won’t get the lack of money coming in early on. A lot of people just beat themselves up over this and fail. In truth, it should just be accepted on day one that not everyone is going to get it and just live with that.
Lesson Four-It Takes A LONG TIME
With Breaking Bad & Better Call Saul, they can be famous as shows about patience. The first season they after having to kill two people, nearly get killed and get nearly arrested for theft walkout with only about $100,000. Season two, they are up a bit a million dollars after also nearly dying a few times, witnessing friends die and going through numerous other issues. Season three, Walt is again in the blue about a million dollars, but obvious issues hold with that and he walks out on a cliffhanger for his life. Season four, due to destruction and problems at home, Walt is left with nothing besides knowledge. Season five was where the success happens where Walter White builds his empire. Walt makes a fortune and has nearly a hundred million dollars made in under three months. Contacts, product, team and more it aligns.
In business, this isn’t an uncommon story. Walter White went through every struggle and found his fortune when most would have quit early on. All the battles of random tough guys and eventually going one and one with Gustavo who was a literal god to them and it all just pays off. This patience and perfection is the startup story. It’s coming from nothing, failing the first few times, rising, facing troubles in the rise and eventually becoming a master. It’s the story of breaking bad and story of startups.
The biggest key to the show is the strength of Walter White as an entrepreneur. He cares about the quality of his product. He refuses to ever make something below 99% perfection and constantly cares about it. The show also clearly states the biggest lesson which is the value of the final few percent for perfect. Any basic cook can get 50-60%. Some cooks can get into the 70s or 80s. However, only a truly skilled cook can break 90% and only Walter White can break 98%. This puts him at an envy where another chemist named Gale can break 95%, but emphasizes that the final few percent are everything to a perfect product.
This is the greatest lesson of them all. The product matters. The little pieces of perfection to a product matter. With Walter White, he cares about his product, he sits a mission to be as close to 100% as possible and that’s why he has value. That isn’t a value a lot of founders have and it is his benefit.