Drea Burbank, MD, CEO of Savimbo
Drea Burbank is the CEO of Savimbo
What's your industry?
For those who don't know anything about you or your work, can you provide a bit of background?
I grew up off-the-grid in central Idaho and my first career was as a wildland firefighter. After I went to medical school I ended up building a consulting group where we used emerging technology and hard science to solve hard scientific and social problems. Savimbo was a consult from five medicine doctors in the Colombian Amazon, which led to a company. It's a dream project for my consulting group and for me it's the expression of these many exposures.
What does an average day look like for you?
I live in the Colombian Amazon, I usually get up at 6am, meditate, then start a full day working over satellite in both Spanish and English between a virtual international team and an on-site Colombia team from the deep jungle.
How do you balance the needs of your business with the needs of your personal life?
I'm so lucky to have a job that allows me to live deeply in nature, with peaceful surroundings and surf the exciting waves of international development and emerging technology and science. I get tremendous satisfaction from my team, they are precious friends and their company is deeply fulfilling.
What's the best advice anyone ever gave you on your journey in business?
I think I was in business for about seven years before I knew it. I had started three companies, had >300 consultants, and made several million before it occurred to me I was an entrepreneur. I didn't really think of myself as a businesswoman, I was just trying to find something I was good at, and ended up needing other people to go further. So I didn't really seek out mentors. I think the best advice I got was from my brother, I was having a hard time during a rapid growth phase, and he ended up hearing about it a lot. Finally he said "you have to trust yourself". That really stuck, I hadn't trusted myself before, I always thought other people knew more than I did about business, but I finally realized they didn't. They didn't know about MY business, MY team, MY industry. And I did. When I finally accepted that I was able to really build the culture and processes we'd needed.
What's been the hardest part about the path you've taken and how would you advise someone facing a similar situation to overcome it?
I really made something new. No one had ever seen it before. The first five years, I would tell people what we did, and they'd laugh at me. It wasn't a thing. I wasn't a thing. My ideas weren't a thing. So I really focused on getting someone, anyone, any client to pay me even $1 to do what I wanted to do, which was solve hard problems in the world using creative intelligence. I remember my first real client was a gene editor from the UK for $5 hour. And I just focused on doing a really good job for them. And I got a couple crazy people like me and we did project after project. Within the year we were making $300/hour to work for other people and that helped build the team, but then we went to work for ourselves, building novel product no one had ever asked for. And that was hard again, we started back from zero, but we had each other then, and finally I think we've got it right. We know what to do, and people know to ask us for it.
Are there any well-known Books, Podcasts, or Courses that you credit your current success to?
A Course in Miracles. It's not a traditional business book, but when I started to see other people as a mirror, my relationships changed with my clients, and my staff. That's when I was able to start making real win-win business real.
What do you think are the most important qualities for a successful business owner or executive to have?
Compassion and clarity. Someone once told me that "insight without compassion is cruelty" so a good leader has to really see whats needed, what direction to go. But they have to have compassion for everyone else who can't.
What advice would you give to someone who is just starting out as a business owner?
I think someone once told me, that when you go in the direction you were supposed to go, you will have all the energy and enthusiasm you will ever want. If your business is right, it doesn't matter if it succeeds or fails, you will have passion for it. It's normal to fail a few times before you get the hang of it, and only practice will teach you. So don't get discouraged if it doesn't work the first, time, but also make sure you're getting energy back from it.
What are the top three things you think are essential for business success?
Wow. Okay a business is different than a business owner. It's kind of like a centrifuge. Or a child. It has to succeed on it's own merits.
Revenue, value, and positive unit economics
Clients and sales
Do you think someone can be a great business owner without having many years of experience first?
Yep. I don't think it can be taught, I think it can be very intuitive. So lots of people that are good at business might not know it or even acknowledge it in advance.
In general, do you think the world is producing better business owners in 2023 than it was fifty years ago?
I don't think all the education helps much. I wonder a bit if the loss of the character ethic, as Steven Covey calls it, tends to hamper business owners. In my experience the best businesspeople are very clear in their verbal contracts, and they follow through on commitments. That's not numbers, technology, or balance sheets. That's character. I don't think that's changed in 2,000 years.