I had the pleasure of interviewing Tom D’Eri, the co-founder and COO of Rising Tide Car Wash, a social enterprise that employs over 80 individuals with autism in a successful car wash business. He is also the co-founder of Rising Tide U, an organization dedicated to teaching others how to harness the autism advantage. Tom is a summa cum laude graduate of Bentley University in Finance and Economics, an Unreasonable Institute Global Fellow, a Startingbloc Fellow and a Miami Herald 20Under40 award recipient.
Jean: Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory” of how you become a founder?
My father, John, and I founded Rising Tide Car Wash as a means of employing my brother Andrew who’s on the autism spectrum. While Andrew is an incredibly capable young man, we saw that it was going to be difficult, if not impossible, for him to find meaningful employment because of the way society views autism — as a disability that requires sympathy instead of a valuable diversity. Our mission with Rising Tide Car Wash is to create gainful employment opportunities for individuals with autism in premium car washes. We feel that by delivering exceptional service, provided by expertly trained employees with autism, we can help change the way communities view autism and show the world that people with autism can help businesses thrive.
Jean: What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We’re a true social enterprise where the success of the business and the fulfillment of our mission are completely aligned. If you come visit one of our stores, you’ll see employees that genuinely care about providing great service and consistently deliver great value to customers. You may be lucky enough to be greeted by Brandon, a young man with autism, who always has a smile on his face and enthusiasm in his voice. If you ask him how his day is going he’ll likely say something like “I can’t complain, I love working outside!” and then he’ll bust out into a cheer of “Woooohoooo!!” because he’s so excited. This habit has earned him the nickname of the “Woohoo Man” by our team and some of our regular customers.
Jean: Are you working on any exciting projects now?
At our car washes, we’re always working on improving our employee and customer experience. One thing we’re currently excited about is redesigning our training program into a digital and experiential system that weaves leading character skill research into the fabric of how we develop our people. We feel that teaching things like grit, self-control, effective conflict resolution and growth mindset can not only improve how effective our employees are in their work but also help them be more successful people in their whole lives. We’re also developing a dashboard system that leverages our point of sale system data to make more effective management decisions in real-time on key performance areas like labor management. We also recently launched an education arm of our business called Rising Tide U, with the goal of enabling more jobs for individuals with autism by sharing what we’ve learned in building Rising Tide Car Wash into a thriving business. Our first educational product, The Autism Advantage, is the first step-by-step online course that teaches learners how to build a sustainable social enterprise that employs individuals with autism. In less than a year our students have created over 58 jobs for people with autism in businesses like snack delivery, food products and video production.
Jean: Do you have a favorite book that made a deep impact on your life? Can you share a story?
I’ve been an avid reader for over a decade now so it’s hard to choose just one. The book that had the single largest effect on my view of how to build a career that matters is “Getting Green Done” by Auden Schendler because it taught me that real impact comes from the front lines, immersing yourself in the issues and not being afraid to get your hands dirty. I’ve taken that approach in everything I’ve done so far and it’s served me well. Also, Kim Scott’s Radical Candor drastically improved my understanding of how to effectively help my team develop themselves — it’s now required reading for my entire management team.
Jean: What are your “5 Lessons I Learned as a Twentysomething Founder” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
Jean: Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂
This has got to be Gary Vaynerchuk, right? I respect Gary so much and am frankly in awe of how he’s been able to build an empire on providing incredible value and just being a beast from a work ethic prospective. Every time I start to get tired or burnt out or jaded I just pop on a Gary V audiobook or podcast and I immediately feel re-energized. I’d honestly just like to meet him to thank him for being the inspiration for a generation of entrepreneurs.
-Published on August 18 2018
Originally published at medium.com