Billions is already the best series on television. The writing is exceptional; the plot constantly twists; the dialog is crisp and clever and never fails to drive the story forward; Damian Lewis is, as always, great; Paul Giamatti is, well, he's Paul Giamatti; the moment Wags, played by David Costabile (the ill-fated Gale Boetticher on Breaking Bad), appears in a scene, you instantly smile with anticipation. Billions is just a smart, entertaining show.
And it was co-created by Andrew Ross Sorkin, the author of the outstanding Too Big to Fail, co-anchor of Squawk Box, and founder and editor of DealBook, the NYT financial news site. The show definitely has business cred: As James Altucher says, "Billions is the first show that gets Wall Street right."
And with all that said, the last episode of Billions also provides the perfect way to evaluate the potential of any startup -- including yours.
A little background. Bobby Axelrod (Damian Lewis) runs an incredibly successful hedge fund. He's worth billions.
Axe's wife, Lara -- written to be the polar opposite of a stereotypical trophy wife -- has started a "health care" business (if providing restorative IVs for hung-over executives can be considered health care). Lara decides it's time to take the business to the next level by raising capital, but she doesn't want to use family money; she wants the outside validation that comes from a cap raise.
"You're sure you're ready?" Axe asks. "Because what you're asking, if you're not ready ... "
"I'm ready," Lara says.
Axe pauses. "OK. I'll call Boyd, and he'll have the right guy at Spartan Ives (Lawrence Boyd runs Spartan Ives, an investment bank that is Wall Street royalty) sit with you about expanding."
So far, so good.
But that meeting doesn't go as planned. Lara and her partner pitch the "right guy" (who turns out to be a woman) from Spartan Ives. The meeting seems to go well. Lara thanks her for her time.
"Hey, anything for Lawrence Boyd," the Spartan Ives exec says. "It was a personal ask from him. And anything for your husband."
Later, when Axe comes home, Lara says, "Tell [Boyd] the woman he set me up with wasted my f---ing time."
"I'm sorry?" Axe asks, seeming confused. (Axe, of course, is never actually confused.)
"It was a BS meeting," Lara says.
"Was the woman discourteous?" Axe asks. "Was she rude?"
"No," Lara says. "It wasn't ... She treated me like I was just 'the wife.' Like my business wasn't ready."
"Well, I tried to tell you," Axe says. "You weren't ready, but you wouldn't hear it from me."
Lara asks why he feels that way.
Here it comes. Axe asks Lara:
What is it you do that you're the best in the world at? You offer a service you didn't invent, a formula you didn't invent, a delivery method you didn't invent. Nothing about what you do is patentable or a unique user experience. You haven't identified an isolated market segment, haven't truly branded your concept. You need me to go on?
So why would an investment bank put serious money into it? I all but told you that ahead of time, but you wouldn't listen. Now you've heard it, but it's too late. You. Weren't. Ready.
And if that's not the best explanation of what makes a startup a great startup, one with huge potential, one poised to grow, hey, send me a better one.