AutonomyWorks makes it possible for people with autism to find jobs that match their unique skillsets.
Dave Friedman started AutonomyWorks because he saw that his son, Matt, had valuable skills to bring to the workforce—but as an individual with autism, the traditional workplace wasn't properly leveraging his unique skills. So he launched a company that did.
Briefing / Learn how AutonomyWorks is set to create 10,000 jobs for people with autism.
Define the Problem
Dave observed a low employment rate for people with autism, and through an assessment of the employment landscape, determined that this low employment was due to a lack of potential employers’ understanding around the value of their skills. Indeed, people with autism, like all people, have valuable skills that are useful in many business contexts, and in overlooking this group, those businesses were missing an important opportunity.
Dave wanted to create a business that would allow people with autism to do work that leverages their unique skillsets--something that was not happening in traditional workplaces. Based on research and personal experience, he decided that AutonomyWorks would focus on marketing operations, content management, and reporting and analytics services.
To build the business thoughtfully and develop a model that works for both clients and employees, Dave and his collaborators carefully hired operational staff and partnered with the Division of Rehabilitation Services to learn more about what people with autism need in order to thrive in a workplace.
AutonomyWorks is growing rapidly in its current location. Its next step is to expand in the Chicagoland area first and then scale nationally, with a long-term goal of employing upwards of 10,000 individuals with autism.
Tool / Use the Risk Assessment tool to identify gaps in your idea, just like AutonomyWorks did.
We'll email you AutonomyWork's completed Risk Assessment as well as a PDF lesson and template so you can try it on your own projects.
Advice / Dave and Karrie's tips for those who want to make an impact in their own community.
Must Have Tools
In a start-up, there is always more to do than there is time to do it. It is easy to get consumed in the urgent tasks. Weeks and months can pass without making progress on the critical strategic activities that truly determine your success or failure. Every week, I try to set aside dedicated time to work on strategic efforts. I put on my headphones and focus for a couple of hours. The team knows the signal – leave Dave alone.-Dave
I would be totally lost without a well-organized, highly structured calendar. I use naming conventions & colors to reserve different blocks of time on my calendar and set notifications to help remind me when important meetings are coming up. I review my calendar every morning and at least two other times throughout the day. I ask our team to send out calendar invites following similar conventions to help me keep everything straight.-Karrie
I have come to resonate with the quote by Robert Schuller that states “Better to do something imperfectly than to do nothing perfectly”. There is a ton to create when you are first getting starting. For me, it was easy to get stuck in the, “I can’t start because I don’t have 100% of the answer”, mindset. Personally, I had to learn how to be content with the “never right, never done” mentality. Almost everything will need to change as you learn more and as the company matures. But, in order to change and make things better, you have to start. - Karrie
When we started AutonomyWorks, we had an extremely broad vision of what we could build. Personally, I found it highly motivating, but it was confusing to everybody else. Potential clients didn’t know how to work with us. Potential partners couldn’t see how they fit into the strategy. Potential employees were overwhelmed. We have steadily narrowed our focus over the past five years. First, we decided to focus on one process area – marketing operations. Even that was too broad, so we narrowed down to ad ops, content and reporting. Then, we realized that we had a hard time making money in content, so we stopped pursuing that work. And, even now, we are asking ourselves if we are doing the right things. - Dave
Don’t hire full-time people too fast.
When you are small, you need all sorts of different types of skills and talents. No one person possesses these skills. You are better off hiring freelancers or consultants that are rock stars in their discipline. Early on, we hired two talented people. They were more than we needed right then, but we thought we would “grow” in them. It just took too long for us to get big enough to take advantage of their skills. It was expensive for us … and frustrating for them. Ultimately, they both left the company. - Dave
Don’t isolate yourself.
Most startups will require a significant amount of your time and energy. It is easy to begin feeling like you are on a planet all by yourself; it can get very lonely and challenging. Surround yourself with others who understand what it takes to start a social enterprise. For me, I joined the Center for Social Impact Strategy Executive Program; the program allowed me to connect with other social entrepreneurs and engage in a community. Find something that works for you. - Karrie
Support This Innovative Work -- Hire the Autonomy Works Team
“AutonomyWorks exists to create jobs for people with autism. We wouldn’t exist without the support of our clients, partners, and investors. At AutonomyWorks, every client project and every investment dollar translates directly into jobs. And, jobs form one of the foundations of a complete life.” -Dave
Build New Solutions -- Find Ways to Create Change in Your Space
Use what you’ve learned from Dave to find solutions to issues you see around you -- those that affect your family, friends, and community. Starting from a personal place is valid, and there are so many tools and resources available to support your work.
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