In today’s digital society, one D.C. startup proves that children don’t need video games for entertainment. Instead, Surprise Ride excites children with educational hands-on activities that arrive at their front doors each month.
Donna Khalife, a Harvard University graduate, and sister Rosy Khalife, a marketing professional, created the “rides” after watching their then-six-year-old nephew glued to his iPad. To encourage “real world” experiences, children discover themes in each box inspired by pioneers like Amelia Earhart and adventures like exploring ancient Egypt.
In a recently launched dragon-themed box that includes throwing balls into cups, “kids learn engineering skills and they don’t even know,” says Rosy.
While the activities are designed so kids can explore on their own, parents also get involved. “It gives them a chance to bond and spend quality time with each other—it’s a time for them to create memories together,” she says.
In November 2013, the sisters appeared on ABC’s hit show Shark Tank to pitch their idea to the show’s investors. “It was a really great experience,” says Rosy. “Lori [Greiner] went as far to say that it was the best gift box she's ever seen.”
While they declined an offer from Robert Herjavec because “it was obvious that our values were not aligned with his values,” they received supportive emails from kids and parents after the show aired. Since then, thousands of boxes have been mailed across the country, while the ladies run operations from their Farragut North headquarters.
Producing games isn’t all fun for the entrepreneurs, however. In early 2016, the ladies will appear on ABC again—this time on Shark’s spinoff Beyond The Tank where viewers can get a glimpse into the challenges of running a successful business.
“I think people have a slight misconception that it’s glamorous or it’s exciting—and it is a lot of those things—but it is a lot of hard work, long nights and working on weekends and at times when you think you can rest,” says Rosy.
Luckily, they have a few secret weapons. For one: their nephew, who now lives in California, connects with his aunts through Skype. “He's super helpful and he loves being involved in the process,” says Rosy, who adds they also host focus groups with other children. “Kids always have the best ideas. Things that adults find common knowledge and may take for granted, kids are fascinated by and that’s what’s so interesting about a child's mind.”
In addition to their second television appearance, Surprise Ride is preparing for new product launches and campaigns, says Rosy. “We're always trying to do something fun—we're a surprise company so that’s really important to us.”