Box Office Business Lessons: The African Doctor


January 18, 2017 by Karen Que

No one ever said it would be easy to follow your dreams. It’s a process that involves a lot of doubt, a lot of hard work and, hopefully, a lot of reward.

In the French film “The African Doctor,” a man follows his dreams all the way from the Congo to a small village north of Paris and finds his way blocked by a clash of cultures. When Seyolo Zantoko, played by Marc Zinga, graduates from medical school in Paris, he decides not to return to his native home and work for his corrupt government. He convinces the mayor of Marly-Gomont to hire him as the village doctor so he can gain his French citizenship.

It’s immediately clear that the people of Marly-Gomont aren’t used to outsiders, and they’ve never met anyone from Africa before. They don’t trust him, and they continue driving to the next village over for their care. When Seyolo’s family arrives, they find out the hard way that the village is far from the glamour of Paris.

Seyolo has to fight an uphill battle to convince the villagers that he can provide them with quality service and prove to everyone that this is where he and his family belong.

Startups are always hard to get going, and if it were easy, everyone would do it. Gaining trust and getting people to switch from a competitor takes perseverance and patience. It’s all about building relationships at many levels.

Seyolo chose to do this in a place where he had only one connection and he encountered a tradition of keeping things the same and only doing business with people you know. Here are 3 things I learned while watching Seyolo break down those walls.

  1. There’s a difference between drinking all day and networking to gain trust.

When Seyolo couldn’t convince anyone to come to the clinic, the mayor suggested that he spend some time with the villagers, talk to them and get to know them. So Seyolo started visiting the bar every day. It worked at first. He played darts with the locals, and they started to feel more comfortable around him, but they didn’t take him seriously.

One of the locals finally came in for medical treatment, but when Seyolo tried to charge him, he just laughed. Seyolo realized he was spending his time with the wrong crowd and he had to change his methods.

It’s true that your network is only as the people you’re hanging out with. If you’re not making the right impression and doing the right networking activities, then it doesn’t matter how good you get at it or how hard you’re working on building those relationships. It’s going to work against you.

It’s important to make sure you’re spending your time with your target market. Seek out time to build relationships so you can gain trust and serve those around you. Networking should always be an opportunity to serve others first.

  1. Sometimes, it’s necessary to create other income while you are starting up your main business.

Between the empty clinic and his wife’s long-distance phone calls to Africa, Seyolo’s bills started to pile up. Rather than giving up on his dream, Seyolo decided to become a farmer on the side.

This may seem like a setback, but that is a matter of perspective. I saw it as just another way to invest in the business and keep his family going. It’s very common for business owners to have a 9-to-5 job that they use that as their investor to fund their dream before they transition to working full time in their business.

There’s no shame in having multiple streams of income. Startups are hard, and there isn’t one way to do it. Sometimes figuring out what doesn’t work and making adjustments helps continue moving the business forward.

  1. It doesn’t matter how hard it gets, don’t quit on your dream.

Seyolo’s breakthrough came on Christmas Eve when a local mother went into labor. He kept his cool, even though the mother was screaming at him not to touch her the entire time. Business started picking up, and Seyolo was about to receive his citizenship when he was arrested. And everything fell apart.

The life of an entrepreneur is full of ups and downs. But no matter how hard it gets, it’s important to keep your convictions and take small steps every day until you get your breakthrough. Once you get that breakthrough, you have to shine and make the most of it. You never know when it’s going to come, so you have to be ready.

This whole story is a very good representation of how hard it is to get started in a new business. Seyolo went into a very difficult situation with so much heart. It took a lot for him to get down to the point where he thought about quitting and didn’t think he deserved success.

It’s common for entrepreneurs to start to doubt themselves when things go wrong. Making the decision to get up and keep going is what matters the most. Seyolo could’ve quit and gone back to Africa, but he ended up taking care of that village for the rest of his life. That’s the kind of heart it takes to be successful.

What are your favorite ways to network and build relationships?

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