003 – Starting Small: What to Do If You’re Not an Entrepreneur

Welcome to the Autism Advantage podcast! I’m your host, Tom D’Eri, the COO and co-founder of Rising Tide Car Wash. In case you’re not familiar with what we do, we employ a fantastic team of individuals with autism, allowing us to empower our staff while offering a fantastic experience to customers. We believe that individuals with autism are an incredible untapped resource for many business, and this show is dedicated to proving that employing these people can create real competitive advantages.

Wendy Kohman is one of our favorite Awakening the Autism Entrepreneur workshop participants! We did a series of ten workshops across the country in partnership with the University of Miami to inspire people to start businesses supporting people with autism. Wendy had already founded the incredible Katie’s Snack Cart, but participated in the workshops anyway, and we were delighted to have her there!

When Wendy’s daughter, Katie, was in middle school, they began the transition process with Katie’s school. They evaluated what Katie liked and was good at, and what she could offer in the working world. Using her strengths and interests, they figured out that giving her a good and meaningful life after high school would likely involve food, being on the move, and interacting with people. After a lot of thought, strategizing, and creativity, they came up with the idea of a food cart selling great alternatives to vending machine junk.

They started things off by borrowing a cart from Katie’s school, buying some healthy snacks, making banana bread, and going to the two places that they knew would be safe to try out the concept: their church office, and Wendy’s husband’s office. They found that people enjoyed the idea (and their food!). From there, they’ve had the luxury of being able to expand at their own pace while learning what works and what doesn’t.

In addition to going into more depth about all this, Wendy talks about some of the things they’ve learned throughout the process so far, what their goals are for Katie’s Snack Cart, how Katie has done with the process and business, how customers have responded to the venture, and much more!

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In This Episode:

[01:25] – Wendy starts things off by telling the story behind Katie’s Snack Cart, and explaining how they settled on the idea of starting a food cart.

[03:35] – Tom draws out some of the interesting things that Wendy explained during her story about starting the food cart.

[04:01] – How has the experience been so far? In her answer, Wendy explores how they started testing the idea in a limited environment to assess whether it might work.

[05:49] – Wendy talks about some of the most important things they’ve learned so far in the process of running Katie’s Snack Cart. She points out that because this is not their main livelihood, they have the luxury of being able to go slowly.

[07:56] – Tom points out how well Wendy has done the prototyping process, and why it was so important. He points out that the path leads from unconscious incompetence, to conscious incompetence, to conscous competence, to unconscious competence.

[09:22] – How has the business gone so far? In her answer, Wendy talks about their growth so far and their anticipated growth in the future.

[10:59] – The immediate goal for Katie’s Snack Cart has always been to give Katie a meaningful life. Wendy expands on this, and their secondary goals. Tom then points out that this is a legitimate business filling a real market need that they’re weaving Katie’s strengths into.

[13:16] – We hear what Wendy has learned about what people want and need from this business.

[15:16] – Before starting the business, Wendy went on an assumption that people wanted things other than typical vending machine fare. Beyond that, she has learned everything since doing it, and points out that you can’t just go on assumptions.

[16:01] – Wendy talks about how Katie has done with this whole process, and how her cart helps her handle new environments.

[18:09] – Tom points out that they were nervous about how employees would respond to the chaos of a car wash, but they too found that the employees were successful once they had familiarity with the process of what they’re supposed to do.

[18:58] – Wendy has hired two other young adults (one with autism, and one without) as bakers.

[20:31] – Every single comment that Wendy has received from customers who already know them has been very, very positive. People at locations where people didn’t already know them were a bit standoffish at the beginning, but have now warmed up and enjoy Katie’s presence and business.

[22:31] – How can listeners get involved with Katie’s Snack Cart?


Links and Resources:

Katie’s Snack Cart

Katie’s Snack Cart on Facebook

@KatiesSnackCart on Twitter


Wendy Kohman on LinkedIn

Wendy Kohman on Instagram

Awakening the Autism Entrepreneur

Tom D’Eri

Rising Tide Car Wash

Rising Tide U

Autism Advantage

University of Miami-Nova Southeastern University Center for Autism & Related Disabilities

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