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Star Shark Tank Sisters' Success Story

The Huffington Post logo The Huffington Post 9/03/2016 Renny McPherson
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Donna Khalife, with her sister Rosy Khalife, founded Surprise Ride, a fast-growing monthly subscription service that helps parents by delivering hours of pre-planned activities for their kids. I interviewed her for my book Entrepreneurs in the Midst: Stories from Founders, Creators, and Builders.
What is Surprise Ride?
In a nutshell, Surprise Ride is a subscription service for kids. Once a month, we send them a really fun package that has everything they need to learn something new. It's really a way to get kids off the gadgets, away from the electronics. It's returning to the basics. Kids do things like build and erupt a homemade volcano and learn the science behind different things that we cook. Surprise Ride piques their curiosity to get them to be interested in the real world.
Why start the company? How did you come up with the idea?
Part of the inspiration was my own childhood and that of my cofounder Rosy, who happens to be my sister. We grew up in a very creative home. Our father was an artist--full-time artist and stay-at-home dad--and we were surrounded by art all around our house. We did a lot of really fun projects. He always encouraged us to experiment. He made his own paint; he would recycle furniture and create art out of that. More recently, we watched our nephews spend a lot of time on the iPad, with two full-time-working parents. We hadn't quite realized how lucky we were in how we grew up. You look around at kids these days who are born in the digital age--"digitally-native," as we like to think of them. To solve the question of how do you get them engaged in the real world, our answer was, "Go back to the basics." Bring back some of the stuff that we grew up with, that we were engaged by as children.
How do you come up with enough themes for the monthly packages? Do you and Rosy and your colleagues have a chart somewhere?
We have an infinite amount of ideas around what new themes we could cover. Adults sometimes say to us, "Is this sustainable? Are you going to run out of ideas?" We had a viewing party last year when we were on Shark Tank. We brought some kids in to watch the show live with us, and it was a really great celebration. But one little girl named Sophie raised her hand and asked us, "How do you choose from the thousands of questions you could be covering?" I love that question; it's stuck with me. Because kids are curious about a lot of things. You could really make a theme about the invention of the pen or about a color; you could make a theme about the color blue and talk about Picasso's Blue Period. There's an infinite amount of questions roaming in their minds. And it's that really beautiful sense of curiosity that you can nurture.
A lot of really great leaders and innovators have attributed their success to being curious, everybody from Albert Einstein to Thomas Edison, Walt Disney, Eleanor Roosevelt. I mean, these are people who literally say one of the greatest gifts you can have as a child is being curious.
Shark Tank has highlighted many entrepreneurs in the past few years. You and Rosy were selected--that's a big thing. Talk about the pitching in front of the sharks. What stage were you at when you recorded the Shark Tank episode?
We were really babies when we went on the show. We were a three-month old, four-month old company when we filmed the show. As an example, we were using just plain old brown cardboard boxes as our packaging. Just slapped a sticker on there. I mean the kids didn't care; they'd dive right in when they'd see their name on it and they'd get so excited. But we had to do a lot to get camera-ready in some ways. We were working on new packaging, but the impetus was there now that we were going to go on national TV.
We were really tiny, but we had seen some great traction quickly, right off the bat. I learned to code a little bit to get the website off the ground. Neither of us is technical, but we wanted to do the lean start-up thing and thought, "Let's first make sure there's something here before we go and hire people or bring someone on." I learned all the ins and outs of using a shopping cart, and gateways, and all that fun stuff of having an e-commerce site. We put together a website and as I was testing it, we got our first customer. We thought it was a fluke. We thought something was buggy. It turns out someone stumbled on my Twitter profile and saw that I was starting a company with activities for kids and had signed up in the same moment when we went live.
How did you get on Shark Tank?
Being on Shark Tank was a really fun experience. It took us months to get on the show. It was just another one of those things we tried that day. As an entrepreneur, early on, we were taught every morning to spend ten to fifteen minutes listing ten things you're going to try that day to grow your business. And it sounds like a lot to do every day, but if you get a whiteboard out and you start, you'll see pretty quickly that it's not so hard to put those things down. And then you have to actually execute on them and follow through. But on one morning we put that down, and we cold e-mailed the producers and kind of took it from there. And it was nerve-wracking, the whole process, and finally getting on the show, walking down that hallway and getting in front of those sharks.
Read the entire interview with Donna in Entrepreneurs in the MIdst: Stories from Founders, Creators, and Builders.

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