Two sisters, Donna and Rosy Khalife, came up with the idea for their startup Surprise Ride when they wanted to provide their two nephews with the same creative and active learning experiences they did growing up. As young girls, their artistic father gave them outside-of-the-box opportunities to learn about the world around them without having to leave home. With Surprise Ride, they’ve capitalized on that same model in a monthly package for kids that features surprise activities alternative to their typical video games and television. And tonight, their startup will get national attention as they appear on ABC’s Shark Tank television show.
Featuring some huge names in the angel investing world like Dallas Mavericks Owner Mark Cuban and FUBU Founder Daymond John, Shark Tank gives small businesses with innovative ideas the chance to pitch investors they may never otherwise get face time with. And whether the Sharks in front of them see value in contestants’ businesses or not, the chance for airtime on national TV is an invaluable opportunity in itself.
For the Khalife sisters, this too is a chance to be a part of something they’ve supported since the beginning. “We’ve been huge fans of Shark Tank since season one,” Donna said. “We’re avid fans and it’s one of the few shows on TV that actually brings out the entrepreneurial spirit in the U.S., so we really love watching all those stories of how all these small business owners got started, and all these great products that you don’t normally see day-to-day. I never actually thought we’d get on there, but we heard that they were looking and we pitched our idea.” Though it took quite a while to get to this day, she said, “We finally got our air date, and we’re still a little in shock – it’s a little surreal that the show we love to watch, we’ll actually be on it.”
Though they were tight-lipped about what actually went down in the Shark Tank, their idea – similar to the popular Birch Box – has been scaling quite well on its own. Operating out of D.C. since the beginning, the sisters said the monthly box full of activities has been rapidly expanding organically, “mostly through word of mouth – one happy parent tells another parent or and aunt tells another aunt, that sort of thing and that’s how we’ve grown,” Donna Khalife said. Surprise Ride is also a graduate of renowned accelerator Betaspring in Providence, R.I.
Plus, they’ve found a combination that makes both kids ages 6-11 and their parents happy. Their product was founded on three simple principles: 1. Kids are brilliant, 2. Curiosity fuels success and 3. Everyone loves getting a surprise in the mail. You can’t argue that. Take what’s in this month’s Surprise Ride, which is all about Japan: “The kids are doing origami activities, designing a lantern, tasting a real snack from Japan, reading a book that has them believing they’re ninjas, and there’re chopsticks,” Donna said.
Tonight, the world will see how the Khalife sisters faired, but regardless of whether they walk away with investment or not, the experience was worth it. “When we were in there it felt really real; it felt like we were in an investor meeting,” Rosy Khalife said. “You forget you’re on TV, you forget that it’s Mark Cuban, the billionaire, and Laurie [Greiner], you’re just trying to pitch your business and sell yourself to them.”
Her sister Donna agreed. “At the end of the day you may go in with certain goals, but I think what we really enjoyed was having a two-way conversation and getting to know the Sharks a little bit through that conversation. We got real advice from them. There’s an evolution that happens when you’re in there and when you come out, you sort of have a different perspective.”
For the show, the sisters are hosting have a big viewing party in Dupont Circle with family and friends to celebrate the airing. While they already know what happened, the rest of D.C. is anxiously awaiting to see their experience in the Shark Tank. And again, even if their time doesn’t result in capital, they’ll have plenty of investors knocking down their door to get a shot to back them after the episode. Make sure you watch when it airs at 9 p.m. on ABC.