Starting a Meth Business is a Lot Like Starting a Regular Business

Breaking-BadAside from being a fascinating, well-written story full of action and drama, there’s another reason I really like Breaking Bad: I have a secret fascination with understanding the economics of niche industries.

The meth industry is no exception.

Actually, I’m interested in more than just the economics. I also love discovering how businesses grow. It’s often difficult to go back in time and learn how a company developed, but in the case of Walter White’s fictional meth business, all I had to do was watch!

I tracked the Breaking Bad business’s progress in a teamspir.it logbook. Not surprisingly, there are a number startup lessons to be learned. These are the ones that stand out.

Product, Product, Product

Walt-Product

Your product is everything. Make sure it’s incredible. Walt knew this from beginning. No matter what, he refused to produce anything less than 99% pure meth. Consistently providing a valuable product helped him grow quickly, and it actually saved his life a few times!

Positioning Is Important

Walt understood that his product was his unique selling proposition and quickly positioned it as high-end. His product was better than anything else in the market, and once he started making blue batches, it was also easy to identify. While copycat substitutes did pop up from time to time, none of them measured up to Walt’s product. Ultimately, positioning comes done to figuring out what makes you special. Or as Seth Godin puts it, how are you different or remarkable?

Charge What You’re Worth

The Sequoia Guide to Pricing suggests letting your price tell the story. Price often serves as a proxy for quality. Walt wasn’t afraid to charge what his product was worth. He knew people would pay a premium for quality.

You Need a Partnership Agreement

Jesse, Walt, and their other partners often made a point of clarifying what everyone’s role was.

Walt-Jesse-Partnership

This was good, but they didn’t go far enough. People change, and circumstances change. It’s better to be proactive and work through all possible scenarios BEFORE they come up. For example, what happens if someone wants to leave? Will they still hold equity in the company? How will they be compensated for the work they’ve already done? Time and again, small differences and disagreements between Walt and Jesse got out of control, and ultimately destroyed their relationship. (That and all the violence).

Focus On Value

Walt was great at focusing on value. In any situation he knew what value he could gain, and also what value he could offer. This is one of the reasons he was such a great negotiator. As Gary Vanerchuck points out, value is subjective. Being able to put yourself in someone else’s head and think about things from their perspective is an important skill. Anytime you intereact with someone else, think about what motivates them and what they care about.

Learn How to Negotiate

Walt’s first attempt at negotiation was not great. He got what he wanted, but only because he (literally) blew up the room – not exactly a sustainable tactic.

Walt-Tuco-Negotiation

Negotiation expert Ramit Sethi tells people that negotiation takes practice — but it’s worth it in the long run. When Walt demanded more money from Tuco, he set the tone for the rest of their negotiations. This set a precedent that enabled him to continue asking for higher compensation.

By the time Walt negotiated with Declan he was much better. No violence was need to get what he wanted.

Walt-Declan-Negotiation

Build Relationships

Chris Brogan advocates, “Connect with people. Connect with them often. Value those connections as best as you can.” Many of the successes in Breaking Bad happened because of relationships. Mike used his contact, Lydia, to get methylamine, while Jesse used his friends, Badger, Combo, and Skinny Pete, for distribution. If those relationships didn’t exist, those favours wouldn’t have been possible.

Of course, if this was a real business, we probably wouldn’t be able to go back and watch how everything unfolded. A lot of these moments and lessons would have passed us — and the people involved — by. That’s why we advocate keeping a logbook with your team. We use one because it helps us grow better.

PS. Check out the Breaking Bad Logbook and let me know what you think in the comments! You can click on hashtags to see how certain areas, such as #cashflow or #product progressed over time.