Erin Neer is the founder and CEO of MUNIRevs, an industry-leading paperless business revenue collection system for municipalities. In some ways, Neer’s story is like countless other entrepreneurs: she saw a problem, so she built a powerful solution to address it. In others it stands out: she built a tech-based company with millions in revenue from a rural town in southwest Colorado.
We recently spoke with Erin about her journey to founding MUNIRevs, the support she’s received from the local ecosystem in Durango, the SCAPE accelerator (a Rural Innovation Network partner), and the value of mentorship and connections for startup founders.
The following transcript has been edited for length and clarity.
CORI: How did you decide to become an entrepreneur?
I was a CPA who pursued a career in finance. I ended up working for a municipality in Colorado, and while in that role, I saw firsthand that the tax and licensing system was far too manual. Businesses would fill out coupons and do their own math, then the city would have to process all of this in reverse, get the information to the bank, and on and on. From this perch inside my industry and knowing it intimately, I knew there could be a more efficient system. That’s how I had the idea to start MUNIRevs. I left my position and hired programmers to get started. I hadn’t always dreamed of being an entrepreneur; I was just always looking to grow in my career, and I jumped at this opportunity when I had the idea for an easier way for tax and licensing.
MUNIRevs participated in the SCAPE accelerator program in Durango, which CORI works with through the Rural Innovation network. What role did that experience play in growing MUNIRevs?
I joined the SCAPE accelerator in a different position than many founders who join accelerator programs. MUNIRevs was already a mature, profitable business with numerous clients. With this great foundation, I chose to enter the SCAPE program because as a founder, you often have multiple ideas for your next product offerings and are wearing so many hats that it’s a challenge to choose exactly how to move forward. I knew that SCAPE leadership Elizabeth Marsh and Gary Masner could provide excellent guidance and support as I chose what to build next.
Ultimately, SCAPE fully delivered on what I hoped it would. They put together excellent content and programming, and allowed me to be in the room with mentors and investors who all could help me move my business forward. I interacted with HR specialists, marketing professionals, and others who were generous with their time let me pick their brain about tactics and approaches I could adopt at MUNIRevs. This included Elizabeth, who brought an incredible expertise and knowledge and ability to connect individually with me and other founders to see what their company needed at the time.
The program ended up encouraging me to take on investment, which has been crucial in taking me to the next phase. It also helped me build our automated vacation rental compliance software, which has proven to be a significant player in our growth. I even ended up hiring two of the people in my SCAPE cohort as employees of MUNIRevs, showing the power of connections that a program coordinating a small town ecosystem can provide. There are lots of ways an accelerator can be valuable for a business, but from my perspective as the founder of a mature company, the connections SCAPE provided were invaluable.
I also really appreciate the work SCAPE has done to support Durango, beyond just the support they provided to my business. Their efforts have done amazing things for our community, through creating jobs and bolstering the local economy, so I feel fortunate that I was able to be part of the program and want to give back in the ways that I can.
We talk to founders from small towns across the country. How has being based in Durango helped you and MUNIRevs to thrive?
In a place like Durango, referrals go further, because people are so connected. We’re also lucky with the expertise we have available. People want to be a part of this beautiful area, with mountains, recreation, and support for a lifestyle that many people want. That quality of life makes recruiting easier, the talent pool wider, and opportunities for hiring all that much better. Our headquarters is on Main Street in Durango—it’s beautiful. We also benefit from the presence of successful people who want to be in Durango. These people, whether they’re currently running a company or retired to the area, want to be mentors and to give back to the local community. I also just personally love that I can run my business from here. Whenever I’ve had the choice, I always have chosen to be near the mountains. The fact that I can deliver solutions to our clients and live in a place that is even more rural than Durango is something I’m constantly grateful for.
If you had one piece of advice to give to a rural resident thinking of starting a business, what would it be?
We’ve learned from this pandemic that there’s a greater opportunity now than ever before to be productive and provide value for clients from afar. I remember suggesting a video meeting to someone a decade ago when I invented MUNIRevs; they thought I was insane—it was unheard of. Now, as people are accepting that we can connect virtually and do so well, there’s more of a chance for anyone anywhere to pursue their passion and turn that into a business that brings value to their community and the world. In order to succeed, though, any founder needs to know their industry, become an expert, and find a need. For me, I was able to translate my experience on both sides of the revenue system to provide value to both business and jurisdictions. As long as you really know the problem you’re trying to solve and understand the issue inside and out, you’re putting yourself in a position to succeed.
At CORI, we are interested in broadening the conversation about rural America and sharing stories from local change agents and entrepreneurs who are driving innovation in the small towns and communities they call home. Our Rural Edge series features conversations with the people who are changing the narrative about what’s possible in rural America. To read more stories like this one, check out our blog. And to stay in the loop about CORI’s work, sign up for our newsletter.