Founder Focus: Sonja Howle & GeoRanch

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Who is Sonja Howle and What is GeoRanch?

When you meet Sonja Howle, you are immediately put at ease. She is one of those people who after 5 minutes of conversation, feels like someone you have known your whole life. Her genuine and caring nature, wisdom, and patience all come across quite immediately. Sonja comes from a five-generation farm and ranch family, is a real estate professional, commercial leasing agent, doting dog-mom, and also the founder of GeoRanch. GeoRanch’s mission is to serve landowners, guiding them in understanding the options, possibilities, and potential of their land. By understanding the landowner’s wishes, Sonja and her team are able to present opportunities for innovative partnerships, leasing, or selling. If you are having trouble picturing it, just think, Airbnb for ranchers. “A great deal of our work involves connecting landowners with leasing ranchers. We advise on land and regenerative ranch management.” In talking about her business Sonja makes one thing very clear; her servant heart is what guides her work. She founded the company to help people, and her ultimate goal is to make sure landowners have all of the information they need in order to make the best decision for them and their family. 

GeoRanch is Personal 

For Sonja, the mission of GeoRanch hits close to home. Her inspiration to start the business came about several years ago when after a long battle with dementia, Sonja’s father passed away. After his passing her mother, sisters, and Sonja were left with not only grief but also the difficult decision of what to do with the land he had left to them. Despite her experience in real estate and commercial leasing, as well as her family’s long ranching history, Sonja recalls the decisions they had to make still seeming quite overwhelming and difficult to finalize. Luckily they had the time to have some of these conversations with her father before his passing, so while she feels confident they were able to honor his wishes, she knows not all families are so lucky. Through navigating this experience with her own family, Sonja recognized there was a significant problem that needed to be solved. “It is imperative that we get this right, so landowners know what their options are,” Sonja explains. Her and her family were not alone in their need for better guidance and support during a land transition such as this one; and thus, the idea for GeoRanch was born. 

Sonja and family at Cheyenne Bottoms Kansas Wetland
Cheyenne Bottoms, 41,000-acre Wetland, largest in the interior U.S.

What Sets GeoRanch Apart 

A highlight of her entrepreneurial journey thus far was winning the 2022 Land Tech Accelerator award from the Realtors Land Institute. This was all the validation she needed, to know that moving forward with GeoRanch was the right thing to do. Receiving this honor proved that not only was her work meaningful and important, but also that she was doing something no one else was doing at the time. In 2022, Sonja decided that the business both needed and deserved her full-time effort and attention. With the partnership of her husband, GeoRanch became Sonja’s full-time work. Relying on her extensive experience in the real estate and leasing industries, her husband’s experience with GIS (geographic information systems), time spent in collaboration with the appraisal district and county development offices, as well as extensive research in land value and landowner options, Sonja felt extremely confident in her ability to guide landowners in making the choice that best suits both their financial and personal interests. “If they want to sell, great. If they want to lease, great. If they want to develop a partnership or explore options for things like renewables, carbon, and livestock, great. If they want to increase their income or the value of their land, great. We are a fiduciary, meaning we work on behalf of the landowner and work with their interests in mind.”

The Entrepreneurial Journey 

After two years in business, Sonja says her entrepreneurial journey has been filled with many successes, as well as some valuable lessons learned along the way. One thing she said she has come to realize is that one person cannot possibly be all the things. “At first I wanted to serve all the people and more than that, I wanted to know all of the things. I realized instead though, I really just needed to be great at my niche, and what I do. And I had to learn to rely on others for their expertise and experience as well.” She also identified distractions, unproductive programs, and uninformed investments as being challenges that set her back in the first few years. With so many incubator programs, marketing tools, and new business services out there, it is important to be selective and intentional about what you choose to buy into and who you choose to bring into your business. “It can feel so discouraging when you are not making progress like you expected,” Sonja shared. “I had to take my blinders off and really figure out where I wanted to go with my business.” Sonja recalls hearing Gary Keller, founder of Keller Williams Realty, Inc, talk about “the one thing” and says Keller’s message really stuck with her. He shared that what many business owners need to do is find clarity around that “one thing” they want to accomplish. And then, ensure that everything you do is leading you in the direction of that goal. She also talked about the 80/20 rule. And the realization that 80% of our actions are often misaligned and not actually serving us in moving towards what we actually hope to accomplish. Sonja talks about how hearing Gary Keller really helped her to be more intentional about her actions, and ensure they were in constant alignment with where she wanted to get to. 

The Value of Mentorship

If she could go back to the start of her journey and give herself one piece of advice, Sonja says one of the most valuable things she has learned is the importance of “surrounding yourself with people who believe in you and your vision as much as you do.”  Sonja credits much of her success to those who have taken the time to mentor and invest in her and her dreams. A turning corner for her was becoming one of the first businesses to join the Das Greenhaus business incubator program. “I remember reading an article in the San Antonio Business Journal, where Justin McKenzie (Das Greenhaus Program Director and BKCAN founder) was talking about bringing this new concept to Boerne.” Sonja remembers being one of the first memberships of the Das Greenhaus community, which has provided her with guidance, a valuable mentorship, and the opportunity to pitch her concept to the Boerne Kendall County Angel Network (BKCAN). Sonja explained that more than anything, what Das Greenahus has given her is community. “When you think about groups like Das Greenhaus, you think about how it can be to be a lone wolf out there- just trying to create something on your own.” A cornerstone of Das Greenhaus is the belief that no entrepreneur should have to go on this journey alone. There is power in coming together, sharing experiences, and guiding one another along the way. 

Sonja visiting at the Boerne business incubator, Das Greenhaus

Through her membership at Das Greenhaus and participating in the “Idea-2-Market” program, Sonja was matched with mentor Rich Jarvis. In discussing her mentorship, Sonja shares the impact that Rich Jarvis (founder of SiMPL Ideas, Inc.) has had on her; “A great mentor makes all the difference. Rich values my experience, and of course I value his. He provides clarity, he asks the right questions, makes suggestions, and shares stories from his own experiences. With him, everything is personalized and we are both focused on what makes sense for me and my business.” Sonja described the mentorship as one of the most rewarding parts of her journey thus far, and also one of the most beneficial. 

In discussing both her experience with Das Greenhaus and the mentorship program Sonja summed up her experience with this statement – “We underestimate the power of encouraging one another.” Such an important sentiment – in both business and life, and the reminder that our words, our actions, and our interactions have profound impacts on those around us. 

Colorado Ranch Creek, enhanced with beaver integration

Moving Forward

As she moves forward, Sonja says her goal remains constant – to light the path and guide transitioning and retiring landowners through the process of deciding what to do with their land. Her ambitious goal is to impact 4 million acres in her first 3 years. While enterprising, she also recognizes there is still plenty of room to grow from there, as nearly Forty percent, or 371 million acres, of America’s farm and ranchland is owned by landowners who are 65 and over; and according to a USDA Agricultural Resource Management survey conducted in 2013, only 29% have a successor or transition plan.  All of this makes the need for GeoRanch more apparent than ever. 

 

Article Written by Samantha Morganroth, Program Coordinator, Das Greenhaus

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