I’m addicted to Breaking Bad (BrBa), and its lead character, Walter White, proves that entrepreneurs are everywhere. A high school chemistry teacher developing a product and building a startup that would earn him millions of dollars in a short period of time? In Silicon Valley that’s not an uncommon premise – the products might be (very) different, but the elements of Walt’s entrepreneurial formula are the same ones I’ve seen in successful startups. While watching last night’s episode, I got to thinking about the characteristics of Walter White that would make him a strong startup founder (aside from the fact that he operates an illegal drug organization, which, disclaimer, I definitely don’t advocate). Here’s why.
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1. He created a great product
“So you have a plan! Yeah Mr. White! Yeah science!” – Jesse Pinkman (Season 1, Episode 7)
Science indeed, Jessie. Walter was a talented chemist who graduated from the California Institute of Technology, helped a team win a Noble Prize in Chemistry and founded a multi-billion dollar corporation called Gray Matter Technologies. Science was good to Walt; understanding the chemical process helped him to produce a higher quality methamphetamine. His attention to detail, preparation (who can forget the menacing fly?) and ingredients were meticulously calculated to produce exact results – both actual and monetary.
Bottom Line: He obsesses on creating a great product that is significantly better than anything else on the market.
2. He’s goal-oriented
“$737,000, that's what I need. That is what I need. You and I both clear about 70 grand a week. That's only ten-and-a-half more weeks. Call it eleven. Eleven more drug deals and always in a public place from now on. It's doable. Definitely doable.” – Walter White (Season 2, Episode 1)
In the uncertain world of drug dealing, Walter sticks firm with measurable milestones. He knows how many pounds of meth can be produced from 1 gallon of methylamine, how much money ($737,000) he needs to leave his family, and how pure his meth is (99.1 percent). When Walter set out to establish business ties with Gustavo Fringe, the big time distributor only gave Walt 60 minutes to deliver a few dozen pounds of meth. And Walt delivered.
Bottom Line: He sets clear, measurable goals, tracks his progress and accomplishes them.
3. He learns from his mistakes
“The moral of the story is: I chose a half measure when I should have gone all the way. I'll never make that mistake again. No more half measures, Walter.” – Mike Ehrmantraut (Season 3, Episode 12)
Listing all of Walter’s shortcomings on BrBa could fill a whole other article, but what sets him apart is his ability to learn and adapt from his missteps. One of his early mistakes in life was selling his share of Gray Matter Technologies, ultimately a billion-dollar company, for a mere $5,000. For good or (breaking) bad, Walt will never sell himself short again. So it comes as no surprise that after stealing 1000 gallons of methylamine from a train, he refuses to sell it for $15 million dollars when he knows he can make more money turning it into meth.
Bottom Line: He makes mistakes, but channels his learnings into improving himself and his business.
4. He’s a brand builder
“Say my name.”—Walter White (Season 5, Episode 7)
You’re Heisenberg, we get it. Your rivals get it. Do you think the black hat/sunglasses combination was an accident? Walt created a superior product and needed to distinguish himself from other purveyors. You didn’t need to try his Blue Sky product, only see it, to know that Heisenberg cooked that batch. Declan, his Phoenix-based rival, knew the product and its creator before they even met.
Bottom Line: He’s memorable and mysterious to his rivals, and his customers can immediately recognize his superior product.
5. He dreams big
“Jessie, you asked me if I was in the meth business or the money business. Neither. I'm in the empire business.” –Walter White (Season 5, Episode 3)
You can’t make an empire in an RV, and Walter is not in the business to become another Mom-and-Pop operation. From confronting Tuco with a tough sales pitch to eliminating his competition (Gustavo Fring) to allying with Mike Ehrmantraut, Walt makes the moves to satisfy his short-term goals and realize his dream of creating an empire.
Bottom Line: He’s not afraid to set audacious goals and exude the confidence necessary to convince others that he can accomplish his dreams.
This list certainly isn’t all-inclusive; I would love to hear how else you think Walt exemplifies startup founder characteristics – or what startup he would do a great job running – in the comments.
Sam Shank is CEO of HotelTonight (which is hiring!). Follow him here or at @samshank.
A Stealth Bong
Royght!, based in Southern California, is developing an accessory that turns any Starbucks venti cup into a water pipe. The gadget, which the company plans to retail for $19.95, fits snugly atop the standard-issue wax-paper cups used by takeout restaurants. Matt Luxton, Royght's owner, said he's already raised $140,000 for his vision and needs $80,000 more. He said the product can roll out in two months.
A Way To Show Off More Discerning Tastes
New York-based Rodawg is creating what CEO Josh Gordon called "a lifestyle brand for professional smokers." The company said it plans a full line of ganja-themed accessories. "The products within the industry are still tied to that hippie or stoner look," Gordon said. "Ours have more of a cigar aficionado feel: it's 'Grey Goose meets John Varvatos' rather than the traditional brand with the pot leafs and tie-dye."
A Weed Jar Worthy Of The Mantelpiece
Among Rodawg's offerings soon to be sold at retailers is a line of storage jars "more consistent with the packaging of high-class spirits."
A Stash Holder That's All About The Plant
Ross Kirsh, a medical marijuana patient who owns New York-based Quark, came up with the idea of a mid-concept weed holder that puts the focus on the product inside. An upgrade on the Mason jar many smokers use to store their skunk, Kirsh's invention replaces the top of the pot receptacle with magnifying glasses. Kirsh expects the product to retail for $9.99 and said he needs $50,000 to make it a reality.
A Pipe That Matches Your Suit And Tie
Buckle Puffer, a Cleveland-based upstart, is looking to market a stainless steel belt buckle that doubles as a discrete marijuana pipe. Samson Mastroianni, a senior at John Carroll University in Cleveland and the company president, said the idea is to create a product that blends in with semi-formal male business attire. Mastroianni said he believes he's aiming at a $200 million market he called "apparelphernalia."
A Power Cleaner For Your Pipe
Nothing disrupts the flow of a smoking session quite like a clogged pipe. KashIt, a San Diego-based company, is developing a hand-held power tool to clear those pesky clogs. The company seeks to raise $115,000 to develop KashIt Clean, expected to retail for $25. No word if the cleaner will work on 1980s-era video game cartridges.
Air Conditioning For Your Bong
Kashit is also working on a prototype accessory that fits atop bong mouthpieces, forcing the marijuana smoke through a cooling mechanism. Nimesh Goel, one of Kashit's co-founders, said the product would have an anti-microbial component, in a nod to germophobe stoners. "Everything we develop creates a solution to a personal problem we ourselves have experienced while smoking," Goel said.
A Lightning-Quick Mobile Vaporizer
UpToke, based in California, is developing a portable vaporizer with a sophisticated look and enough technology under the hood to smoke the competition. The company's signature product is a $300 contraption about twice the size of a cigar. It heats marijuana to a smoking point in 2.7 seconds, a vast improvement over existing pocket vaporizers. The odor emitted by the device is very faint.
Supplements To Enhance Your Buzz
An upstart CEO who asked that he not be named, given the embryonic state of his venture, is working on a line of chewing gum products to end “cottonmouth,” the parched throat feeling many people have after smoking marijuana. A few investors told HuffPo the holy grail of products, which no one has come up with yet, would be a supplement that somehow helps people who’ve imbibed too much sober up. Talk about a buzzkill.