Start-up lessons from Breaking Bad

My fascination with breaking bad was not “Love at first sight” I liked it as much as I like eggplants which I feel taste terrible. I watched the very first episode and felt it one of those low-budget movies with amateur actors still learning the ropes. A friend of mine kept bickering about breaking bad this, breaking bad that for ages. So I decided to press the play button and be assaulted with boredom. To my surprise after watching a couple of episodes I got hooked. Long story short, it was one of the best t.v series at the time. Most importantly it is laden with noteworthy valuable business and management lessons. There are plenty of these on the web already, but what the hack? Let me join the band wagon because I am just itching to say something that is how much I love Breaking Bad.

So, what is Breaking Bad? (In case you have been living in a cave somewhere meditating) It is about an over qualified high school teacher (Walter White) who is diagnosed with inoperable cancer and has a few months to live. To ensure his family has a financially secure future, he teams up with a former student (Jesse Pinkman) who happens to be a petty criminal and embarks on a career selling crystal meth. He proves to be remarkably good at this, and builds an international drug business.

This article deduces some of the start—up lessons that can be learned from this series.

Start-small and Scale up- the duo started by selling drugs in a R.V what we call a caravan in Swaziland, with basic equipment and tones of knowledge. Their first market was pretty small considering it was their community. They made a few pounds of crystal meth each week with paltry revenue trickling in. Having a vision and think big mentality Walter went into an agreement with a major drug distributor who had a vast distribution channel. Gus Fringe gave them a great deal leading them to moving to a state of the art underground laboratory.

Outsource-by outsourcing his distribution channel in the initial stages of the business the trade, they were able to focus their energies and talent on what they were good at cooking meth. Most start-ups try to be good at everything this is a no-brainer in most instances, leading to an infant death of the business.

Know who to team up with– As the great motivational speaker Les Brown puts it surround yourself with “O.Q.P” (Only Quality People). First valuable partner was Jesse Pinkman. Together they could be regarded as the Segrey Brin and Larry Page of the narcotics industry. Jesse being a drug user himself, was initially the sales-man, selling to other druggies. He also doubled as a lab-assistant, helping cook the meth itself. The duo went through thick and thin together, one being the brains the other the muscle selling the product in the streets. Their up’s and downs, break ups and make ups are all at the end worth it.

The second most valuable partner was their distributor. Gus Fringe a cool, calculating and savvy entrepreneur who owned a vast distribution channel. He used his chicken business (Pollos Hermanos) to smuggle drugs around as though transporting the secret chicken recipe. He was always a step ahead of the police (DEA). Teaming up with Him made it possible for them to access international markets, a better lab, and earn a cool $1 million in about a month

Being novices in the drug business they consulted with a sleazy dirty lawyer Saul Goodman who is highly connected and knows every dirty thing that goes on in town, not to mention he does business with other crooks. In one instance, he advised Walter to open a Car-wash to wash the drug money. This was plausible cover up for a while. Saul’s role as the lawyer is probably one of the many reasons they didn’t end up getting tossed in jail or killed by dealers higher in the drug business food-chain.

Differentiation I dare you make a product that is of superior quality and entirely different and from your competitor down the road and see if his customers will not come in droves begging for yours. Walters’ meth was 99% pure with a trademark blue shade thus its street name “Sky blue”. By differentiating his product through quality, he beat all his competitors hands down. As a result he charged a lucrative premium for it. It helped him build a multi-million drug empire.

In the real world this principle of making the best product is similar to Steve Job with the Apple products. Start-ups who want to penetrate the market with a product similar to existing products will not stand the test of time. It is wise to develop something in which you will be the best in, something of the highest level of quality, something you darn good at!

Product defensibility-build a product that is defensible. Take for example a bottled mineral water, you can differentiate it from the next say using attractive packing, but will you be able to defend against a competitor who copies your packaging? In short is it easily copied? (BTW there is no such word as defensibility)

At some point in the tv series the crystal meths’ distinct blue colour was imitated by adding food colouring. It didn’t take long for drug-users to figure it was not the real deal.

Personal branding- by naming himself Heisenberg Walter was able to transform himself from an unknown timid chemistry teacher to an intimidating drug-king highly sought by the police and respected by the streets. The name Heisenberg was. Nobody knew expect Jesse whom Heisenberg is.  Not only did it put him on top of the DEA’s most wanted list. The Heisenberg mystique was used to ward off competitors from territories, negotiate with high-profile criminals, and became a seal of quality meth.


Build a reputation in your industry that aligns with your product or service or company. Let it do the talking

Business models -know what business you are in. The founder of MacDonald’s once asked a group of college students what business he was in? One student said food business, obviously. No, I am in the real estate business he said. He explained how MacDonalds benefits by setting up one of its franchises in a building, the value goes up…etc

Similarly, Walter knew exactly what business he was in: “I’m not in the money business, I’m in the empire building business” Walter.

Start-ups need to figure out their business model order to remain a going concern.


Follow your passion- Walter’s passion for chemistry is the single most important force that spurred him to become an industry leader and helped him build an empire from the ground up. I mean this is a guy who built a battery from staff lying around to get him and Jesse out of a desert when their car battery died.

Business is not for the faint hearted. It requires tones or perseverance and I can do it mentality, yet doing something that you like makes it much easy. As the adage goes “do what you love you will never work a day in your life”

Disclaimer: I am not an advocate of consumption of illicit drugs nor sale. The above article simply deduces positive lessons from a fictional tv series.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s