Updated: Apr 19, 2020
Better Call Saul is a TV show chronicling the life of James McGill aka “Saul Goodman” who originated in a bigger universe of the “Breaking Bad” family.
BCS is a show which talks of an offbeat, unbranded college educated lawyer trying to find a niche for himself in the big bad world of lawyers and attorneys. I won’t suggest that we all ‘do what Saul does in the show’ but his positives in his career curve offer some good insights.
There are some striking lessons I feel that start up entrepreneurs in India like Saul can learn from his story and show.
1. An Average Educational Degree can't be a roadblock : Saul got his degree from University Of American Samoa (a correspondence course), but his skills and perseverance got him to build a successful law practice in a competitive profession which is dominated by Ivy League educated visionaries. LEARNING: Start Up entrepreneurs in India are largely not taken seriously. One glance at the top 20 deals of the year and you will see that MBA and Btechs from IIT, IIM, Ivy League Education are top magnets for growth capital. For Eg, Swiggy, Zomato, Flipkart, PayTM all have graduates of IIT Delhi, IIT Mumbai and DCE as their founders. But that is always not the rule. Indian businesses have had regular graduates also building large companies with external capital. Sunil Bharti Mittal who himself passed out as a graduate from Punjab University went on to build India’s first telecom giant which uses top rate tech innovation. One can also look at the amazing example of PepsiCo’s India first CEO PM Sinha who also was just a B. Com from Patna College and who rose through the ranks.
2. Consumer centric imagination: Saul offers down to earth advise to his clients. Now in some cases he might be ‘bending’ the law. But largely he picked his clients on the streets and by talking directly to them. Usually no lawyer solicits business on the streets but he did. In his first outing, he offers a free cellphone from his old business’ dead stock to sign up new clients. LEARNING: brands like PayTM have ensured that even fintech has to be present at the lowest common denominators in the society like small Chai stalls, roadside vendors. Earlier no business in finance would dare advertise with this consumer category.
3. Innovating for your consumer universe : Saul Goodman innovated for Walter White and Jesse Pinkman. He didn’t offer them just legal services but helped them stash their money legally, set up front business like the car wash and nail salon for them. So he innovated by giving much more than just legal services as he knew nobody else would offer it. He positioned himself to be a ‘one stop solution provider’ rather than a plain vanilla lawyer. LEARNING The Delhi Govt. offered home delivery to its citizens of important documents like Drivers License, electricity bills, etc. This innovation was done as they knew that people find it very difficult to stand in cue for this purpose.
4. Invest in your presentation skills. (Saul wears odd color shirts and ties, the logo, the cheap tv commercials have a resonance with pickpockets, street criminals and businessmen). This was largely done by Saul so that he can build a recall value for his customers. LEARNING When Indigo Airlines launched in India, it had a unique brand communication and language. Its dotted font, the neat and succinct communications resonated a lot with efficiency. And even their food items would have a story on each pack. Each Sandwich, cookie will have a story on its pack. This helped Indigo build a unique communication with its customers on the flight and beyond the regular airlines.
5. Blue Ocean Strategy. Saul’s clients are those who break the law and need protection. No other lawyer will look at his convict clients. Like the famed “Blue Ocean Strategy” created by Prof W Chan Kim and Prof Renee Mauborgne, which talks of entrepreneur creating “uncontested market places”. Saul Goodman in a way implements Blue Ocean strategy in his profession. In Season 5, Episode 1, Saul goes to ghettos and crime hubs to meet drug peddlers and petty thieves but gets a superb acceptance. Now no lawyer was ready to meet them and Saul found this gap. LEARNING in Startups, food delivery pioneers Zomato and Swiggy looked at marrying deep tech with food delivery and disrupted the industry and ended up creating a new ecosystem. Earlier, restaurant would never look at online orders as a serious revenue source. Now after Zomato and Swiggy, majority of revenues come from online for a large number of restaurant establishments.
6. Tough Negotiation skills: Saul speaks with confidence while negotiating with DEA’s, policemen. He gets his clients parole, immunity as he has dealt with drug-lords and Mafiosi. That experience almost got him killed. Its these near death experience and his ability to get out of it is what builds his confidence to negotiate.LEARNING. This can be true for a number of entrepreneurs. Be it negotiating a seed funding round with investors or be it hiring a top rate management team, tough negotiators who have superlative ideas end up getting better valuations.
7. An eye for detail. Saul picks up from little things, like the Sandpiper case itself where he spoke to Mrs Landry, an old resident who is being overcharged for her stay at Sandpipers Residential Complex. At the end, Saul is able to pull off a multi-million dollar compensation for the residents. LEARNING Swiggy realized that high calorie foods will be a dampner for people with diabetes. So they introduced “Swiggy Homely” which serves and delivers low cal and healthy foods to its customers. Similarly, Bhavish Aggarwal of OLA once experienced an inordinate delay for a cab at night. This experience was one of the reasons why he went on to build OLA as an app which gets you a ride at low cost.
8. Re Invent : Saul Goodman changed his name from James McGill and repositioned himself as a lawyer for the ‘unattended’ and ‘less attractive’ customers. He changed his target clientele from big corporates to the average Joe. Saul looks more like a “showman” lawyer than a real lawyer. LEARNING Umpteen number of brands have seen brand re-invention as a strategy to build a long term business. Brands like Vodafone and Airtel have changed their logo quite a few times. The idea is to reach out to more diverse set of customers and build a revised vision of the brand as a whole.
Saul Goodman always learnt from people who were far more educated than himself. He began in the mail room of a top rate law firm like HHM
9. Surrounding yourself with better educated people: Saul is the brother of Chuck McGill who is the co-founder of HHM, a top rate law firm in Albuquerque. Chuck is a straight shooter, Ivy League educated professional. Although Saul is frequented stepped upon by Chuck, he still learns a lot about law and client servicing at the mail room in HHM. He also learns from Howard, whose the other partner at HHM. Post the Sandpiper case, Saul is offered a record compensation at HHM. LEARNING Founder of Tech Companies such as Sunil Mittal wasn’t a technocrat by education but is heading a company which has scores of individuals who are educated at superior institutions such as Harvard, MIT, IIT etc. Newly successful Baba Ramdev and Acharya Balkrishna of Patanjali Ayurved employs dozens of scientists who are more educated than them.
10. Never Give Up attitude: Saul was rejected more than a dozen times at various jobs, he was never even given his due, his legal license was cancelled and had a backstabbing brother. Even after this, Saul managed to build his business and made some decent money for himself. LEARNING Eg Almost any entrepreneurship success from Dhirubhai Ambani to Vijay Shekhar Sharma will show you that a ‘never say die’ attitude is vital for success. Corporate India is filled with stories where individuals have excelled with perseverance and hard work. Vedanta Resources Founder Anil Agarwal tried his hand at a dozen businesses until he built up the metals and resources company into a $25 Bn giant. Bill Gates waited for years before even turning a million dollars of sale as software companies weren’t given their due by giants such as IBM etc.