The theater at the Sundance Film Festival was packed. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who felt that NUTS!, the documentary we were about to see, was probably overrated. I feared I’d be soon be squirming in my seat.
Yet learning about the life of Dr. J.R. Brinkley, the country physician who discovered a goat testicle impotence cure for men, was anything but boring.
Born into poverty, Dr. Brinkley built a medical empire during the Depression, ran a million-watt radio station and was duly elected Governor of Kansas — but prevented from assuming that role by the “establishment.”
Watching the film, I quickly realized it was full of great tips about the sales, marketing and entrepreneurial strategies Brinkley used to achieve success. Within minutes, I was scribbling notes on my program. When I got back to my office, I dove into learning about this fascinating man.
Not only did Dr. Brinkley become a globally-recognized physician, but he was also beloved by the people in his community. Here are the business growth lessons I learned from Dr. Brinkley’s life story.
Often problems create a path to oppurtunity. (Photo: iStock)
1. Find the opportunities in the problems
In 1918, shortly after setting up a medical practice in Milford, Kansas, a patient asked Brinkley if he had any cures for someone who was “sexually weak.” As they were talking, they noticed a pair of goats “going at it” outside the window.
Dr. Brinkley jokingly suggested that if the patient had those goat glands, he wouldn’t have a problem. According to his biography, the patient then begged the good doctor to perform the surgery, which got the good doctor thinking: Perhaps it would work? Maybe he should give it a try? They decided to experiment.
It worked! Within a few months, the patient’s wife became pregnant. News spread rapidly and before long, Brinkley’s discovery was featured in major newspapers across the country. In short order, he was inundated with new patients desperate to restore their virility and fertility.
Clearly, he’d discovered an untapped need. But Brinkley didn’t stop there. He expanded his experiments and business, looking for other sexual ailments that could also be cured via goat gland transplantation.
His clinic and fame grew rapidly. In 1922, the owner of the Los Angeles Times challenged him to conduct the surgery with one of his editors, promising massive PR if it worked (it did!) — which ultimately got the attention of Hollywood stars.
Position yourself as an expert with a solution people need. (Photo: iStock)
2. Don’t be afraid to brand yourself as an expert
Unlike many small business owners, Brinkley totally understood the value of marketing. Even before he became famous, he leveraged direct mail to drive more business. His slogan focused on turning afflicted men into “The ram that am with every lamb.”
But more importantly, while visiting L.A., he got the idea to start a radio station which he could leverage to grow his practice.
In 1923 he launched KFKB (Kansas First, Kansas Best). He spent hours each day on the radio, talking about his goat cures. He also featured country and gospel musicians, military bands and astrologists — interspersed with advertisements for his growing array of products and services. People loved his banter and folksy chatter.
Dr. Brinkley even started a “Medical Question Box” talk show program, where he’d read medical complaints that his listeners sent in and give them doctorly advice. In virtually every case, the recommended treatments were only available at drug stores that were members of his special pharmaceutical association. Of course, he got a percent of the profits.
By the late 1920s, Brinkley was a celebrity and making over $1 million/year. The people in Milford loved him. Many worked in his clinic or related businesses. He gave so much back to his town that they even named the town’s baseball team after him.
Challenges will arise, but tenacity pays off. (Photo: iStock)
3. Fight for what you believe in
All this attention ultimately attracted the attention of the newly formed American Medical Association (AMA). Morris Fishbein, an AMA investigator was assigned to follow up on Brinkley’s patients, many of whom were showing up in other doctor’s clinics with serious medical problems.
In 1930, after the Kansas City Star ran a series of negative articles about Dr. Brinkley, the Kansas Medical Association (KMA) revoked his license.