What Breaking Bad Teaches Us About Business And Money

breaking bad lessons

I just finished watching the season finale of Breaking Bad! Thanks to Netflix streaming, I watched the last several seasons over just a few short weeks, and eagerly plowed through part 2 of season 5 within a few days of it getting released last week. I had some fun conversations with friends about the show over the weekend and how it teaches us a few things about business and money. Note: I have a several plot references in this post, so if you haven’t finished watching the show, bookmark this post for after you’re done.

Lesson #1: Desperation Changes You

I loved the scenes early on in the series when Walter was working a second job at a local carwash (his primary job was a high school chemistry teacher). The humiliation and aggravation he expressed when he was confronted polishing the rims of one of his students’ cars was raw and relatable.

We all know that teacher salaries are low, and Walt was just trying to quietly make ends meet. But it’s hard to stay under the radar in small communities, and he had limited options at the time. I remember I used to be so worried that I’d be seen by my classmates working as a grocery bagger or a similar minimum wage job in high school that I didn’t even try to earn some extra money.

Walt ended up quitting that job in a fit of rage after finding out he was diagnosed with cancer. He didn’t want to have to be pushed around and treated like crap anymore, something a lot of us can empathize with. And when he finally agreed to face $90k+ in medical treatments and fight to stay alive for his growing family, his sheer desperation for money drove him to think way outside the box.

Sometimes it takes being pushed to extremes to get enough courage to try something new. I’m not suggesting you go out and start your own meth lab lol. But it’s an intriguing exercise to think about how far you might be willing to go if you were put in a desperate situation. If you’d be willing to take more risks, why not take some of them now? Who says you have to wait for a disaster to strike in order to explore some untemplate options?

Lesson #2: Even The Best Partnerships Can Sour

Walt carries a lot of resentment and anger throughout the series towards his former business parter Elliott Schwartz. This is another great lesson that Breaking Bad teaches us about business and money. Even the best partnerships and friendships can sour, and we see this all the time in the real world. For example, a friend of mine quit his start-up because he developed too much conflict with his co-founder, and one of my former clients had to switch jobs after witnessing too many visionary battles between the founding partners.

Breaking Bad was filled with relationships that greatly changed over the course of the show. And the deterioration of these partnerships had dramatic effects on the business, profitability, and stress. Think about all the heated conversations, fights, and breakdowns between Mr. White and Jesse,  Gustavo and Heisenberg, Walt and Mike, Jesse and Todd, Walter and Lydia, Ted Beneke and Skyler, Walt and the Schwartz’s, Jesse and Skinny/Badger, Skyler and Walt, etc.

The dynamics of these relationships made excellent entertainment for us. But none of us would want to go through that type of turmoil in our own lives. That’s not to say that every business partnership out there is doomed, but it’s a good reminder that people change, and even if you share the same vision now, you may not later on. So be careful who you choose to partner with in business, and protect what’s rightfully yours.

Lesson #3: It’s All About Branding & Taking Out The Competition

As Breaking Bad fans know, Heisenberg’s product quickly dominated the entire meth market. The buzz about the purity of his meth spread like wildfire. The blue tinge made it easily identifiable, and it became all the rage both locally and abroad because of its superior quality. Everybody wanted to switch to his brand because the ~76% purity of the competition was suddenly total crap compared to his 99%. Later, other cooks tried to imitate Heisenberg’s product by using food coloring, but they were no match.

What this reminds us is the importance of branding your business and creating a niche. Creating a stand out product or service is the foundation to business branding, as well as tapping into the right network. If your product or service isn’t well known, and doesn’t have enough unique features, it’s not going to survive out there. Walter White was able to take out his competition because his product was so superior in quality. And he also had a lot of help going mainstream through Gustavo’s network and getting access to a clandestine lab with top of the line equipment.

Lesson #4: Greed And Power Can Take Over

One of my favorite lines from Breaking Bad is in the final episode when Walt sees Skyler for the last time. They are both exhausted and withered down. And we know the end is coming. Finally, in just a few words, we get to hear the truth about why Walt did all the things that he did.

“I did it for me. I liked it. I was good at it. And… I was… really… I was alive.”

Even though countless times before this scene Walt said he was doing everything for his kids, we could see the fire in his eyes that hinted that wasn’t the true reason. He loved the danger, the process of perfecting his cook, the insane amount of money he was making, and the rush of power. He became a different man, and had he been healthy, I don’t think he would have stopped.

Money and power change people. Walt made millions before his cancer came back, but he wouldn’t quit. He kept putting himself and his family in danger because he liked the power of being Heisenberg, and he became greedy. Another example is when Jack’s crew stole 70 million dollars from Heisenberg and they still wanted to take the risks of cooking the remaining methylamine because they could make more money. It may seem hard to believe, but it’s hard to walk away from making more money when you are already rich. But you have to accept the consequences that come with it.

Lesson #5: The Right Fit Does Wonders

Breaking Bad was so exciting to watch because Walter White loved his  business, and he was great at it. There are lots of things that you and I love to do, but frankly we’re just not that good at them. Natural talent is rare in a lot of things. I realized this with photography, and gave up my dream because of it.

The other scenario that comes up in life is when you are really good at something, but you don’t like to do it. My parents struggled to get me to like music and pursue it as a career for the longest time because I had natural talent, but my heart was never in it. I love listening to music, but there are so many things I’d rather do to earn a living than play in an ensemble or teach.

So when you find something you love to do that you’re also really good at, you have to hold on to that. The right fit can take you places you never even imagined.

Untemplaters, have you watched Breaking Bad? What were your favorite scenes in the show? Did you ever think about these five lessons that Breaking Bad teaches us about business and money after watching the show?

Copyright 2014. Original content and photography authorized only to appear on Untemplater.com. Thank you for reading!


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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Financial Samurai March 3, 2014 at 7:39 am

Truly an incredible show with a great ending. The acting was incredible.

I’m glad Walt was honest in the end that he did it for himself. After a while, it just becomes a game we all love to play.


Sydney March 4, 2014 at 12:09 am

The acting and writing were both so good! “I am the danger!”

Yeah that was one of my favorite scenes. I’d been wanting him to admit that for a while.


Kendal @HassleFreeSaver March 3, 2014 at 9:56 am

Great post! I loved the finale and the line about Walt doing it for himself. I think your parallels are spot-on! I especially agree with the points about branding and the deterioration of relationships when you go into business with family or friends. I think successful business partnerships that begin as friendships are pretty rare.


Sydney March 4, 2014 at 12:10 am

Thanks Kendal. Such a good show right?! :)

Yeah, going into business with family and friends sounds great and fun, but it’s so much more complicated than that!


Michael@Save-Invest-Grow March 4, 2014 at 8:45 am

I really enjoyed the show as well. My favorite was basically season four and the whole confrontation with Gus Fring. Ultimately we were shown Walt’s transformation and in the end, it had nothing to do with money or helping his family, but Walt fulfilling his own sense of “greatness”, as you mentioned in lesson #4. The evolution of Jesse was amazing to me too. By the end, he was my favorite character. You have some great takeaways here.


Sydney March 5, 2014 at 11:33 pm

Yeah so much great acting! I agree Jesse really evolved during the show. When they showed the flashback to season 1 at the end of the show I was shocked at how different he looked then too. Ah such a great show!


Money Beagle March 5, 2014 at 12:05 pm

Loved that show. I think it was the best show on TV, ever. I’d recommend ‘The Americans’ as a show now that is taking on the challenge of creating great storylines, characters you love and hate at the same time, a feeling of dread, and no idea of who you should be rooting for. Season 2 just started.


Sydney March 5, 2014 at 11:34 pm

The writing and acting really were phenomenal. I like the Americans’ too! Thanks for the heads up on Season 2. I have a new DVR box since Season 1 so I lost my auto-record. I added it back tonight, thanks!


Michael@Save-Invest-Grow March 6, 2014 at 10:18 am

I’d also recommend the new HBO series True Detective. Its reminds me of Breaking Bad in that you really get a feel for the location and surroundings (this one takes place is Louisiana). Great writing and acting too.


MoneyAhoy March 7, 2014 at 4:18 am

Great article relating BB and business. I think the point your draw out in lesson #3 is a great one. Branding really is the name of the game when it comes to building a customer base/audience!


Sydney March 9, 2014 at 10:04 pm

Thanks MoneyAhoy! Branding is easy to overlook when you’re so focused on producing, but its what gets customers in the door and coming back.


Carlos @ TheFrugalWeds March 15, 2014 at 11:35 am

Definitely the best show and definitely many great lessons to be learned. I have to echo the comments above as I too feel that branding is a huge part of a successful business. That and the importance of not compromising the quality of one’s product. Yeah bitch!


Sydney March 28, 2014 at 8:26 pm

Ha I say “yeah bitch” all the time now too. :)


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