If you look out your window tonight, you will probably see homes, buildings and iconic landmarks shining bright in Blue… Wonder Y? Today is April 2, Autism Awareness Day, which kicks off Autism Awareness Month and buildings around the world, turn their blue lights on, to help shine a light on Autism.
World Autism Awareness Day (WAAD) was adopted by the United Nations in 2007, Autism is one of the only three health issues to be recognized by the UN with its own day, and by doing so the UN is helping to raise the world’s awareness and knowledge to the Autism crisis.
With a new case diagnosed every 15 minutes, Autism is a global health crisis. Statistically known as, the fastest- growing serious developmental disability in the U.S., which will affect more children this year alone, than AIDS, Diabetes and Cancer combined… It is estimated that 1%, of the WORLD’s population, that is 70 Million people, are affected by Autism.
Boys are 4x’s more likely than girls, to develop Autism, and since there is no medical cure for Autism, which is a group of complex developmental brain disorders, the best way to treat Autism Spectrum Disorders, is with early diagnosis and intervention.
A common question is, what causes Autism? A combination of genes and environmental influences are the known causes, as of yet, although scientists are working around the clock to help find a cure, with less than 5% of the research funding available to other less prevalent childhood diseases allocated to The Spectrum, it makes finding a cure even more difficult. How is behavior on The Spectrum characterized, you wonder? There are varying degrees of social and behavioral challenges and repetitive behaviors, that are just some of the characteristics noticeable.
To help The Y Life shine a light on Autism… we went straight to the Millennial source, making strides to eradicate statistics, that are hindering futures or success for those on the Autism Spectrum. Thomas D’Eri is the COO and Co-Founder of ‘Rising Tide Car Wash’ along with his family, they are simply not taking chances when it comes to empowering adults with autism. Thomas’s brother Andrew is on the Autism Spectrum and nothing is more motivating in life to the D’Eri family, than helping family. The Rising Tide Mission is… ‘to inspire through gainful employment, not just in the car wash industry, but they are hoping to spread their mission across all platforms in the workforce.’
So we sat down with Thomas, whose Rising Tide Car Wash, was built around employing the unique potential of their employees, most of whom are on The Autism Spectrum… and this is just one reason Y, he is such an inspirational Millennial.
The first thing that I want to ask, what drove your family to create this business?
“So the inspiration, was my brother Andrew, he is on the Autism Spectrum, he is 18 months younger than I am. When he was about 21 years old, we realized there wasn’t really the chance of him leading a full and independent life, that he is really capable of leading, it wasn’t going to happen, unless we intervened. Living in New York at the time, we saw that the program he was in, there was no chance he was going to get employment. Then we decided to start taking a deeper look and realized, that it’s not just Andrew, it is pretty systemic across the Autism Spectrum there is about 80% unemployment among people with Autism. You know, there are a few factors for that, and as we went through our research a few became very apparent.
But, we saw we needed to act in order for Andrew to have the life, that we knew he could lead and we wanted him to live. So, my Dad was an entrepreneur and I was just graduating business school and we decided we were going to start a business to employ him.”
So what is the Rising Tide mission?
“Our mission with Rising Tide, is to gainfully employ individuals with Autism, in a premium car wash model and show communities how capable people with Autism really are.”
Did you think, when you were graduating from school, that you would be doing this?
A sudden giggle ensued between us both, because there was an unspoken underlying know say, between two Millennials, whose careers probably turned out a bit different than they had been expecting… and then Thomas continued…
“So when I was graduating business school, I was really interested in corporate sustainability and corporate responsibility. I thought I would go into management consulting, and help change organizations from the inside, to help them be more socially and environmentally responsible… I got some pretty cool offers coming out of school, but none of them really spoke to me and when I got to talking to people that were in those roles, they weren’t particularly fulfilled, they weren’t making the change they were hoping they were going to make with it.
So I then, got to talk to some social entrepreneurs and they seemed really fulfilled. They may have been eating ramen noodles everyday, but they seemed like they were really getting after what they wanted to do. I probably always wanted to be an entrepreneur at some point in my life, because I have been watching my Dad his whole life, he is always my inspiration, my biggest role model. I thought I would probably go that route at some point, but there was no chance did I think I was going to do something so early and I definitely didn’t think I was going to do around Autism, or with my brother.
As a sibling, I think a lot of siblings can attest to this, me and Andrew didn’t have the type of close relationship that I think a lot of siblings so close in age would have. We didn’t fight a lot or anything like that, but there just wasn’t the closeness you would think to have with a brother that is 18 months younger than you. We didn’t talk about girls, or play sports together or anything like that, it was just different. So I don’t think, I really ever expected to do something that was going to be so interval to Andrew’s life. It just kind of came at a point in my life, where I wanted to do something that was socially impactful, we saw this huge need in our family and said let’s do it!
Honestly, if it fails miserably I have a good story to tell for Grad school. (hahaha)”
You mentioned “Different”… The relationship when kids are Autistic is obviously different, but those differences shouldn’t stop people from being able to have a future. Your family has been trying to inspire with this car wash, do you think other businesses need make a change?
“Yes, so the way that we kind of look at it, from a background of environmental sustainability in the corporate world. This is a lot like the environmental sustainability movement, like ten or fifteen years ago. When the environmental sustainability movement started, it was all ethical, right? It was the ‘right thing to do’ to save the planet… But when it really took off, was when companies like Whole Foods and 7th Generation, and the first really visible sustainability oriented brands started to gain traction. When those organizations gained traction, every other company in the world, was like they are making a lot of money by doing this environmentally sustainable thing and we should do that too… that was because there was a profit motive.
And that is okay, and I think a lot of people in the Autism world, still think of that as a dirty word and what we believe, is that in order to have other businesses, like traditional businesses, take action and employ more people with Autism, first there needs to be a critical massive success story, that it is better business to employ people with Autism. We have an incredibly engaged workforce, in an industry where you typically do not get that. We have people that want to follow our processes, that come to work energized everyday, that gives us this whole organizational mindset of service, which is hugely important in retail of service. Because of that, customers come here and they get an experience that is different than most other retail businesses…
And because of the story that people want to tell, they tell their friends about it. Normally, you aren’t talking about the local car wash at dinner, with your friends, it just doesn’t come up, right?
So we have a marketing tool here, that is extremely powerful as well. So there is both the internal benefit of an engaged workforce, as well as the external benefit from a marketing perspective. So we are one example of that, right? But we are ONLY one example.
We founded an organization called, Rising Tide U, which is meant to share what we are doing as well as rally the rest of the Autism community, to be those change makers, to create those first stories. We can’t reasonably ask corporations or other small businesses for that matter, to make a really meaningful move and really risk, moving their business, until they can see that there is real benefit.
So going back to what we saw as the core reasons why there is such high unemployment, with people with Autism… Fundamentally, it really doesn’t have anything to do with the capabilities of people with Autism, it has to do with the fact that we as a society look at Autism, as a disability that requires sympathy, instead of a really valuable diversity. Our argument is, that you prove by creating businesses that are thriving because of employing people with Autism… 80% of our workforce is on the Autism Spectrum. To make THAT type of bet, you have to believe that it is going to actually really do something for your business, and that is what we want to prove.”
What are your goals, for Rising Tide Car Wash over the next few years?
“Rising Tide Car Wash, we will continue to grow our locations, we are building another store here in Margate, Florida… that will employ another 35 – 45 people with Autism, we will continue to grow our location, we will also help other folks and other families that want to do this in their communities- so probably through a licensing model, we are still working to what that will actually look like.
Then we want to more broadly share the things that we have learned here, on how do you build a business that is meant to empower people with Autism, share that more broadly with the Autism community, to help them actually go to action.
The things that we are learning as far as, how do you differentiate a really traditional, habitual, homogeneous business, a local business that you are not really thinking about, you just go to the closest one, same thing with dry cleaners, laundry mats, to an extent deli’s. A lot of those types of businesses… You can structure those existing, traditional proven business models, that can employ people with Autism, creating both a competitive advantage for that business, as well as a really rich employment experience for people with Autism.”
What are the first 5 words that come to your mind, when you think Rising Tide?
“We Put Potential To Work”
His instant quick witted answer, made me think Thomas had pondered upon this question and wondered this same reasoning before… Named one of the 20 under 40 by the Miami Herald, I wondered if he had any advice for Millennials who also want to create business? He instantly pointed to two of his childhood friends Kevin and Tommy who were working that day and continued…
“ I would say that there is a few things.. I mean starting a business is not easy, it is pushing a boulder up a hill everyday … it’s dive in head first and make it work. As far as identifying opportunities, there are a ton of different ways, to start a business, regardless of what your budget is, I think it is just really important that…
One, don’t go it alone. Nobody has ever been a successful entrepreneur by themselves. These guys have been with me forever and are essentially my family as well, they have been building this with me, without them it wouldn’t exist and without my Dad, it would have never happened. This is really about building a good team first, then figuring out where to go.
Jim Collins, a really great business author, talks about getting the right people on the bus first and then figuring out where to bring the bus. So if you are thinking about doing that, find people who share a vision with you first and then figure out how to actually execute it and whatever that is, that interest or potential opportunity that you see is, make sure that you test it.”
My last question for you, is about family, this business started with you, because of family and your family helps you run it! How vital is family to Rising Tide?
“I mean it’s everything, essentially. There would have been times, where if you had said that like, at our darkest hours, right… every business when they are starting, they hit bumps and those bumps can be really traumatic sometimes, and there were certainly times and still are, where I just want to quit and I think I don’t want to do this anymore.
But what keeps that from happening, is the fact that it is a family and I would be letting my family down if I did that, and that is not going to happen. There is no way I am going to allow that to happen. Regardless of how bad it gets, I am going down with the ship.
My Dad is right in the other office, my Brother is on the floor right now, Kevin and Tommy are essentially family as well… my Mom was here earlier today— they are here and this is essentially my families livelihood— so all of the chips are on the table.”
So you are in it to win it?
“We are going full steam ahead and without the family backing, as well as the family obligation… This would never have happened. So it is critically important, from every aspect of the business, both operationally in getting it done, as well as the vision and passion behind it.”
Who doesn’t need a car wash, right? Plus, you get to support some amazing young people helping to make the world a better place to live.
To learn more about Rising Tide Car Was, Click HERE
To support Autism Awareness, Visit Autism Speaks HERE and Light It Up Blue, HERE