Nebraska Business Owner Finds Her True North, and It’s Entrepreneurship
Entrepreneurship runs in Renee Sobotka’s family. Her parents owned a successful lumberyard and her father was a builder in West Point, so she grew up knowing the hard work involved in small business ownership. Despite always wanting to own a small business, Renee found herself working for Union Pacific as an internal auditor and financial reporting roles in the banking industry. It wasn’t until 2019 that she decided to start True North Technologies. That pivotal decision came about after her father’s funeral. “My dad was such a pillar of the community and was always giving back in time and money. I went back to my desk after the funeral and thought ‘wow, what will my kids think when I’m gone? No one reads these reports,’” she says. “You start taking another look at your life and what legacy you’re leaving, so I made it a goal for myself to start my own business before I turned 40.”
After researching franchises, Sobotka happened upon one that offered a “business in a box,” providing accessible mobile app development services for business owners. “This type of app development was more affordable for a business than building it from a framework. I’ve always loved technology and did a lot of software implementations where I worked,” she explains. “It seemed like an interesting field for me since it brought together many of my skills. I even think it would have helped my parents sell more in their retail business if customers received special deals via push notification or loyalty rewards. I decided to go for it.”
Sobotka branded her company as True North Technologies, inspired by a book she was given while enduring many struggles. The book suggests that if people base all their decisions on their values, then they will find their true north. “I wanted to brand myself uniquely, and it’s based on the concept of finding your true north. It was definitely a sad time when my dad died, and this really helped me. It’s nice to think of him looking down, and knowing that I’m doing well would make him proud. He was a big proponent of small business. It was pretty easy to find our name.”
It was tough in the beginning, though, Sobotka notes. “There just weren’t a lot of business owners seeking out app development. My best clients would have been restaurants and entertainment venues. I used that first year just to get my name out. Right when we were starting to get traction was when the pandemic hit.” This caused Sobotka to pivot her company’s core focus. “We started focusing on websites and search engine optimization (SEO), but we still do mobile app development. It’s a great way to consolidate all of the resources and information for an organization in one easy-to-access location. We also offer SEO, social media, branding, and digital ads. We also do text and email marketing and will provide photography, videography, and supplementary [work] for our clients.” Despite the pandemic, Sobotka’s business has grown to five full-time employees including a web developer, copywriter, project manager, and graphic designer.
Sobotka turned to the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) to help pay her employees during the pandemic. “It’s crazy to kind of do a look-back and think about where I was when that pandemic started and how scared I was,” she recalls. “I had that part-time web developer and had just hired a part-time copywriter and graphic designer. I was scared for their positions—I didn’t know if I would be able to continue paying them, or if I would continue to get business. My main source of income was networking, and no one was doing any networking.” The PPP allowed Sobotka to keep her employees, and her company almost thrived during the pandemic. “The pandemic didn’t stop us. It’s not like I made money, but I was able to withstand it and invest in finding
my true north. We’ve come a long way. Our services, process, and quality of work has definitely improved over the last three years, and that’s just downright incredible to me.”
Sobotka has great advice for those starting small businesses. “Don’t give up,” she insists. “My advice is to do it. But don’t do it if you don’t have a strong will, because you will want to quit. If you are a quitter, you will quit. It will get hard. It’s not easy, but there’s nothing more rewarding. I’ve never had higher highs or lower lows. Don’t pay the “dumb tax” twice—reach out to people you know who have built and sold businesses. Find out common pitfalls. Read entrepreneurial and self-development books, and constantly improve yourself and how you operate your company. Be willing to change. Whatever you think your company is going to look like is not what your company will look like.” Sobotka has a straightforward suggestion when it comes to entrepreneurship: “You have to have a little crazy. If you don’t have a little crazy, you’re probably not cut out for this.”