Breaking Even: 5 business lessons to take from a crystal meth startup

Walter White

If you haven’t heard of it yet, AMC’s popular Breaking Bad TV series stars an over-qualified science teacher, Walter White, who is diagnosed with lung cancer at 50. As a result of his diagnosis he decides to produce crystal meth (crystallized methamphetamine) – illegally of course – with an old student, Jesse Pinkman. He does this to provide financial security for his family before he dies.

Breaking Bad‘s main characters’ business was selling the meth they manufactured to other business sectors in that industry. These suppliers, dealers and distributors then sold the finished and packaged product to the consumers, much like an ordinary B2B company. The lessons Walter and Jesse learnt along the way could be applied to any other entrepreneurial venture today.

The first lesson: be the best

We can take away from the meth-making duo that they were passionate about making the purest meth out there. From the very beginning, Walter created his unique formula that he formed into a sought-after product. Even when coming across difficulties, the consistency of the product’s quality reigned above all else.

Don’t go into business aiming to be okay or the second best. If you’re going to start something, make sure it’s worth your time, money and energy.

The second lesson: Be fluid

Walt and Jesse often came across issues sourcing the ingredients, but this never stopped them from being consistent with their business objectives. When he struggles to source pseudo ephedrine, Walter finds an alternative to this chemical that still creates a product of “high” quality.

Things don’t always work out the way you planned and it’s important to accept this and have an alternative strategy.

Read more: 5 great movies entrepreneurs should watch for ‘reel’ inspiration

The third lesson: Identify your core competencies

After deciding to swap out an ingredient for methylamine, Walter and Jesse have to steal a barrel of this new chemical from a warehouse. Being new to the criminal industry, the pair’s strategy to steal the chemical was laughable – because they were manufactures, not thieves.

By taking on new roles outside of their core competencies they compromised their business model and anonymity. A startup business means that employee roles will overlap, but as a leader of a business it’s important to know what to delegate to others.

The fourth lesson: Branding

Walter was insistent on providing the highest quality meth and, because of this, his formula ended up producing a blue substance instead of a white substance. Initially this made people hesitant to trust the quality because it looked different, but Walter and Jesse stood by their trademark. This blue appearance soon became associated with consistent high quality – so much so that their competitors tried dying their product blue.

I guess criminals don’t respect trademark laws.

Be confident in your branding, and what your brand represents and make sure you protect your IP.

The final lesson: Partnership

Partnership is important in any business venture, whether it’s a direct split partnership of a company, or partnership with suppliers, writers, PR and even your employees.

Read more: 7 inspiring TED talks every entrepreneur should watch

Walter and Jesse’s partnership is often questioned, but they remain loyal to each other despite their ups and downs. The duo built other partnerships with outsiders such as resellers and suppliers. It’s valuable to build a network of people who you can rely on for continued support and who are right for the job. In the TV drama Jesse says to Walt, when arguing about what lawyer to use, “You don’t want a criminal lawyer, you want a criminal lawyer.”

When starting a business you have to make sure the people you hire fit into your work environment and understand what you’re creating. Someone who may look perfect on paper may not be the correct fit for what you need.

That’s why regardless of whether your business is a new phone app or a software company, there are important lessons to learn and implement. Hopefully your company can learn from Walter and Jesse and the mistakes they made, as well as the empire they were able to build. Let’s just ignore the fact that dozens of people die and that they’re selling crystal meth.

Julie Farrell


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