They say big things come in threes.
If so, MUNIRevs – a firm started by the former finance director for the town of Mountain Village – may be Durango’s next big homegrown business following the likes of Mercury and GitPrime.
Erin Neer, who formed MUNIRevs in 2011, initially in her home in Dolores after working for a decade in Mountain Village, said she saw the need to streamline and modernize municipalities’ collection of sales taxes and lodging taxes as well as keeping track of licensing and permitting requirements.
“MUNIRevs is really a solution to a problem I saw as finance director. Basically, businesses were manually filing sales taxes and getting licenses, and it was very manual on the city side, too. And so, I created MUNIRevs to take that all online and to deliver cutting-edge technology to both parties,” she said in an interview in her office in Durango.
MUNIRevs, which now employs 20 and is located on Main Avenue in Durango, began moving this week a few blocks up Main to new offices above Carver Brewing Co.
Neer saw MUNIRevs’ sales grow 40% annually from 2011 to 2018. And this year, after beginning to market its products nationally, the firm has seen 200% growth. Neer anticipates the firm will also grow another 200% in 2020.
“We’re definitely cruising,” she said.
Part of the move to bigger quarters above Carver is to keep ahead of the growth curve.
“I’m a conservative accountant. I make sure that we have our resources in place so that we can continue to meet every new client’s needs and just manage that growth and just wow our clients,” she said.
Currently, MUNIRevs is the system of record for sales tax collections for 35% of the cities in Colorado, including Montrose, Carbondale, Mountain Village, Telluride, Carbondale, Avon, Vail and Aspen. It also includes bigger Front Range cities including Sheridan, Englewood and Commerce City, but it has yet to sign a contract with the city of Durango.
MUNIRevs just went live with a tax-filing website with its biggest client yet, the city of Dallas.
“Dallas is our biggest brand name for sure. We also serve the island of Maui,” Neer said. “Dallas, we won the contract in January of 2019. ... Their first taxpayers are in the system now. They’ve already processed $200,000 this week,” she said
Several other major cities are looking at MUNIRevs, especially attracted by its LODGINGRevs product, which surveys websites like Airbnb to see if vacation rentals are properly registered with a city. If vacation rentals are registered, the software also scans to see if they are current with taxes, licenses and permitting.
The RFP, or request for proposal, process in Dallas was more complex than the smaller municipalities MUNIRevs worked with in Colorado to perfect its software. Winning the tax processing bid for Dallas, the 14th biggest city in the country, Neer said, should help land other major cities.
Neer just returned from Anchorage, Alaska. MUNIRevs won the contract from the Alaska Municipal League to service tax collection in 109 cities and towns in the state.
“We have delivered more than $1 billion to our clients through the websites.” She added, “So basically, every website works like Dallas. Dallas’ shopping cart is integrated right to their bank account. And so we direct deliver those tax dollars and permit fees right to the cities.”
The biggest stumbling block for MUNIRevs, Neer said, was her unfamiliarity with computer programing.
“Well, I wasn’t a programmer. You know, I was a CPA, I’m an accountant. So, starting a business with no software development, I had to really rely on programmers to see my vision and actually carry it through the way that the product needed to work,” she said.
In 2014, Neer taught herself to code.
“So, now I can manage (programmers) better. I can tell them what file to go to and really guide the programming a little bit better.”
MUNIRevs is contracting with WSM, a computer program developing firm out of Michigan, for most of its programming development. Neer said it’s a good fit.
WSM has devoted eight programmers to a team working on MUNIRevs products. Contracting out the programming work, she said, provides flexibility and allows for rapid addition of programmers when work swells with new projects.
“I can call them and say: ‘I need three more guys, and they should have this experience.’ It gives me so much more depth,” she said.
Neer chose Durango as the location for her business after outgrowing her Dolores home.
Durango was familiar after she received startup assistance from the Southwest Colorado Small Business Development Center at Fort Lewis College and the Southwest Colorado Accelerator Program for Entrepreneurs, which provides guidance, financing and education to startup companies looking to establish their headquarters in Southwest Colorado.
Elizabeth Marsh, executive director for SCAPE, said, “MUNIRevs is an example of what SCAPE is working toward – propping up local businesses with funding and assistance to grow and scale.”
Nurturing companies like MUNIRevs is important to strengthen the regions’ economy, Marsh said.
“It is vital that we diversify our economy with higher-wage jobs that are insulated from tourism and seasonal fluctuations. Many Fort Lewis College graduates work at MUNIRevs and we are excited they can stay in a community they love and grew up in,” Marsh said.
Almost all of MUNIRevs’ employees are graduates of FLC, principally the School of Business.
Neer sees Durango as the long-term home for her growing company, with FLC as a built-in recruiting base.
“I think we only have four employees who didn’t graduate from Fort Lewis College,” she said. “We even have one who graduated 20 years ago. And, you know, it’s just been a really great recruiting pool and just excellent employees. We’re really happy with the team we’re putting together.”