Monday, October 31, 2011

Chuck vs. Entrepreneurship

by Ray Keating
Business Tips on TV #4

At the end of last season, things were changing substantially for the characters on NBC’s “Chuck.” But as entrepreneurs grasp better than most, change can come often and fast.

And in fact, more change came in this season’s premiere episode that aired on Friday, October 28 -- change, again, that business owners and managers understand.

As a quick review, “Chuck” features Chuck Bartowski (Zachary Levi), Sarah (Yvonne Strahovski), and John Casey (Adam Baldwin), who were fired from the CIA/NSA at the close of last season. For good measure, Chuck lost the Intersect (a computer with government secrets and fantastic skills implanted in his head), while his friend Morgan (Joshua Grimes) mistakenly downloaded the Intersect into his own brain. But using an $800 million dollar wedding gift from former bad guy Alexi Volkoff, Chuck and Sarah now own the Buy More (the electronics store where Chuck and Morgan have long worked and used as a cover), and set up their own private spy firm called Carmichael Industries.

So, now Chuck and Sarah are entrepreneurs. And some of the challenges of entrepreneurship were noted in the first episode of this fifth and final season of “Chuck.”

Most notably was the issue of funding. With their nearly a billion-dollar wedding present, one might think that funds would not be an issue. But to start up their global spy firm, cash burned quickly.

Sarah tells Chuck, Casey and Morgan: “We mowed through the Volkoff fortune on start-up costs.” Among the expenses she noted is a private jet, and “the fresh shrimp that Morgan likes to eat on the private jet.”

Ramping up a business, of course, can be quite costly. It’s not all that difficult to run through large wads of cash if expense are not thoroughly thought through and watched. And of course, the business has to start bringing in the necessary revenue.

Sarah declares, “If we’re going to stay solvent, then we have to collect soon.” That is, they need more paying clients for Carmichael Industries. But with various forces aligned against them, and their own troubles - as Chuck says, “We’re still working out the kinks” - that’s not going to be easy.

Later, Chuck talks to Morgan about the dreams he has for Sarah and himself, saying, “In order for those dreams to become a reality, I need this business to succeed.” Ah, the familiar cry of so many entrepreneurs.

Naturally, though, more woes hit the business in this first episode, with a nefarious person at the CIA - the one who fired Chuck, Sarah and Casey from the agency - gaining access to and freezing Chuck’s remaining $40-plus million.

Chuck and his team suddenly find themselves cash starved, and worried about where the spy firm is headed.

But it dawns on Chuck and Sarah that since they still (secretly) own the Buy More, then the opportunity exists to operate the spy firm. Chuck explains, “We use the store to support the spy team. We take Buy More’s profits put them into Carmichael Industries until both companies can make money. But in order for that to work, the store actually has to turn a profit.”

It’s not unusual, of course, for entrepreneurs to juggle and use profits from one endeavor to get another off the ground.

So, it seems like we’ll see more of the operations in the Buy More, which is now so critical to funding the team’s spy firm. That should be fun, as the dysfunctional Buy More is the source of so many laughs in “Chuck.” And it should provide still more business tips on TV due to that same dysfunction.

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Ray Keating is the author of “Chuck” vs. the Business World: Business Tips on TV (available at Amazon.com). He also is an economist, weekly newspaper columnist, and adjunct college business professor.

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