Whether you’re a plumber, finance nut or about to unleash the world’s trendiest app, if you start out your business with the wrong partner, things are likely to go bottom-up.
There’s no set formula for the ‘perfect’ business partner: in fact, they don’t actually exist. There is only someone who is the right fit for the needs of your business and who is also able to gel with your personal ups and downs in order to meet whatever goals it calls for. Walter White, Breaking Bad’s infamous chemistry teacher come meth cook pursues a number of business partnerships when looking to get his narcotics venture off the ground. Unfortunately, he makes spades of key mistakes that only work to damage its future.
Though Walt ultimately fails in winning his brand the longevity he’d have liked, we can learn some invaluable lessons from his lapses in judgement. Through this, we can be careful not to repeat some of his poorer choices in finding the perfect partner. Breaking Bad might make for riveting television, but it’s also an unlikely lesson in successful entrepreneurship.
Exercising monopoly over Albuquerque’s South Valley, Mexican drug kingpin Tuco Salamanca was an obvious early partnership choice for Walter when kicking off his meth-cooking career.
It’s true that Tuco had connections Walter needed to win a client base at such an early stage. However, he was erratic and unpredictable and worked without structure. He also beat Jesse Pinkman, Walt’s right-hand man, brutally after a botched initial deal.
Whilst Walt ultimately succeeds in winning Tuco’s respect and hard-balls him into paying his debts, you never want to forge or run a partnership based on fear. You also never should work with someone who exercises control over others in the same way. Don’t get mixed up with someone who rushes into decisions or acts too much on impulse. We see Tuco beat one of his own staff, No-Doze, to death for speaking out of turn.
The problem here, aside from frequent attempts at murder and evident lack of trust, is that both parties rushed into deals without properly coming up with strategy. They also didn’t work to build a relationship before formerly going into business. Jesse barged into the initial deal, guns blazing and acted irrationally when it didn’t go to plan. From here, both parties continued to retaliate against each other until Tuco is eventually shot by the authorities. Find someone with a level head and takes it slow when more research and time is required.
Quite simply, Gustavo ‘Gus’ Fring had too many fingers in too many pies to ever really share Walt’s vision on an even keel. The proprietor of a nation-wide, successful fried chicken chain, drug kingpin and public booster for the local DEA office, the balance of power is almost always in Gus’ favour in all of his dealings with Walt.
Sure, initially things looked peachy. Gus essentially hired Walter to produce his product in state-of-the-art facilities, with protection from concerned parties, offering him a handsome salary. But this is not a partnership. It’s Walt compromising his autonomy to accept an attractive offer. This creates an uneven power division that, in the end, causes irreparable strain between the two. Walt’s initial vision of being able to create his product and control its distribution is put tragically on hold as he’s forced to work beneath Gus and deal with all sorts of politics. This includes the near-loss of Jesse as his main accomplice. Your partner and you are equals and need to share the same idea of what you’re working towards. Otherwise, as we’ve seen, there’s too much risk of division when the venture tries to take flight.
The founders of HouseTrip might have been able to pull it off but going into business with your spouse is always a gamble. How can you be sure to make decisions without emotion, or be able to strike a good work/life balance once you head home together from the office? Just because they’re your soulmate, doesn’t mean they’re your perfect business match.
In some ways, running a business is a little bit like a marriage. You need to be patient, there are plenty of ups and downs, and it’s a hell of a lot of work. And, above all, you’re working towards making something you hope will last forever. When your spouse is the person you’ve chosen to help you do this, you need to be particularly brutal with yourself in realising whether they’re the yin to your entrepreneurial yang.
In Walter’s case, Skyler is not. Sure, she has a steely will, terrific work ethic and takes the lead on many of the money-laundering decisions, but makes a crucial decision to spend Walt’s money helping a friend pay off the IRS. Subsequent events see her become depressed and frightened of Walt. This is a sure fire way to cause cracks in a new business.
Being Walt’s wife, Skyler probably thought she could get away with the lie, and perhaps even justified it in the same vein as she would any other domestic decision they would have made together. When it comes to business, you need a partner that can emotionally remove themselves enough to respect you as purely a stakeholder. This is all whilst still being able to understand and communicate with you on a personal level. From such a standpoint, they’d never dare to spend your money without you knowing.
A hardworking apprentice turned meth cook in training, Todd’s work ethic and determination initially set him up as a perfectly viable partner to help Walt grow his wares. But whilst he’s a terrific and dedicated pupil, Todd lacks the originality and vision to really add much to the business except an extra pair of hands.
Do not be drawn in by yes men: the validation no doubt feels nice for someone who may not feel they have a handle on what they’re doing, but without someone who can bring something new to the table, you may as well be talking to yourself.
You might be the most well-read, level-headed and confident entrepreneur to ever get a start-up loan. However, when you’re making decisions only within your own mind there’s an inherent risk your choices will be too one-sided and ignore creative possibilities you’d never have thought existed. Could Walt have sat Todd down and discussed which investors they should be in contact with, nut out a five-year plan or figure out how to register for VAT? Nope, definitely not.
Walt’s right-hand man for much of the series, at the outset Jesse seems to be the perfect antidote to Walt’s hubris and heavy-handedness. He’s loyal, an ideas man, and isn’t afraid to go out and meet clients. But the problem here doesn’t lie in Jesse’s flaws— it lies in the lack of synergy between the two once tempers flared a little too high, and effects of the emotional ties between them.
Throughout the series, we see the two triumph together through sticky and dangerous situations, almost always reunited in their firm desire to work together. This loyalty carries them through the start-up phase of their business but once things start to take flight, the two begin to haphazardly betray each other beneath shaky guises of ‘doing what’s best for the business,’ all the while holding particular emotional expectations of each other. Walt leaving Jesse’s girlfriend to die is a prime example; another is Jesse threatening to burn all of Walt’s hidden cash during the series’ climactic ending.
The lesson we can learn here is not to partner with someone where there’s a risk of emotional volatility getting in the way of your business decisions and someone who will respect the company structure as you set it out. Develop an initial plan together, and make sure you communicate at each stage going forward to alter that structure if need be. Here, both parties took it upon themselves to act in certain ways based on what they thought was best for their venture, without communicating about the changes in role and structure as it went forward. Instead, we see a gradual and eventually fatal communication breakdown between the two, and a final-episode face-off that leaves us feeling a little hurt, too.
By Monica Karpinski
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Published Tuesday January 13, 2015