It seems as though children are stuck like glue to digital devices. Many parents admit it. They say, “We didn’t grow up that way,” but they aren’t sure how to pull their kids away from those screens.
Surprise Ride has an idea. Send the child a monthly subscription box packed with activities, games and projects — both educational and pure fun — that will have them playing and learning in the real world. The Washington, D.C.-based company is headed up by two sisters, Rosy and Donna Khalife, who said it wasn’t until later in life that they discovered that not every child has a crafty parent. Luckily for them, their father is a full-time artist who taught them many things about art, innovation and creativity, and now, the two sisters have shared that with the world.
For as little as $24 per month, a special personalized box will arrive at the child’s home ready to entertain and teach. There is a subscription — six or 12 months — or the option for a single box. Surprise Ride has been favored by thousands of families and even caught the eye of Kevin O’Leary on ABC’s show “Shark Tank.” The company was featured first in the typical pitch format on the show but then also, months later, when fans wrote in wondering what happened to the sisters and their company.
Rosy Khalife, chief operating officer and cofounder of Surprise Ride, spoke to PYMNTS about the founding of the company, what is was like on “Shark Tank” and what’s next as the company expands and puts more smiles on children’s — and parents’ — faces.
PYMNTS: So, tell us, what is the overview of Surprise Ride?
RK: We create activities that get kids to put away the iPad and play with things in the real world. Every month, activities, games, books, acts and whatnot all come delivered in one package to the child. It’s addressed in their name because kids love to receive mail. Each month, it’s focused around a certain theme that’s educational. One month, the child can be learning about volcanoes — building a volcano to make it erupt and really diving deep into that world — and the next month, they’ll be learning about Picasso, and they’ll do an activity about Picasso and learn about his life. Every month, it’s a different theme, and it’s always educational, and it’s always fun for the child.
It’s really meant to get them to do things in the real world with their hands — tactile learning and hands-on learning. Kids these days are doing a lot more digital and screen time, and they’re just growing up very different than how kids grew up, say, 10 years ago, 20 years ago. So, we’re trying to get back to that in having them do things that are in the real world.
PYMNTS: You and your sister founded the company. How did you come up with this?
RK: My sister and I started the company, really, because we were inspired by our own childhood.
Our dad is a full-time artist — and still is — and is very, very talented. Growing up, we had a different childhood than kids, which we later found out. We always assumed that kids everywhere had a “crafty parent” at home, and we later learned that that wasn’t the case. We did experiments with him. He was very innovative even in his way of doing art. So, we are always kind of helping him with his projects at home. That really influenced the way that our outlook was growing up and influenced us as people.
Now, we have two nephews — we have a third sister — and we realized that how we grew up is not how kids grow up now. They don’t always have an artist at home who can really facilitate these types of projects. So, we started Surprise Ride as a way to do that for kids that is educational and fun. It usually utilizes the left and the right brain, and it’s delivered to them easily so parents don’t have to run out to the craft store or spend hours on Pinterest trying to come up with these activities.
PYMNTS: How much does it cost per month?
RK: It’s $24 a month, and we have a couple of different plans. There’s a monthly plan, a six-month plan and a 12-month plan. And for folks who just want to try the product out or just send it for a birthday gift, there is a one-time box that they can purchase.
PYMNTS: Can you share about how many customers you have?
RK: We have thousands of users across all 50 states, and we have plans to roll out into Canada.
PYMNTS: Have you gotten external funding?
RK: We have. We’ve raised $2.5 million from an investor named Irwin Jacobs, the founder of Qualcomm. We are lucky to have him as an investor. And another investor of ours is Kevin O'Leary from “Shark Tank.”
PYMNTS: What can you share about the experience on “Shark Tank?”
People are always interested, and they asked us a lot about our experience on “Shark Tank.”
Our experience has kind of been a more unconventional one. We were part of an accelerator program when we first started the company. Part of that, they would tell us every day, you’re supposed to try 10 ways in terms of marketing. Every day, we would sit there and try to brainstorm how we are going to grow this company. And some of our ideas are more wacky than others.
One day, we added on there: go on “Shark Tank.” We thought that was super farfetched and super difficult, but we ended up emailing one of the producers — just cold emailing him about our company, our story and that we love the show. He ended up emailing back right away about jumping on a call right away. We had spent all this time writing this email that we had no clue that he would want to have a call with us right away. But we had a call with him, and he wanted us to send him a video of us “speaking to the sharks” like how we would pitch on the show.
So, we scramble to make that happen. We sent him samples of our product. Long story short, but we did this in a way that was a little bit more unconventional: We didn’t go to a casting call. That’s what a lot of people do.
We got teamed up with producers that perfected our pitch. Then, we got flown out to Los Angeles. Then, we did a dress rehearsal, which they still cut people then and we didn’t know that. Then, we pitched in front of the executive producers, the “big dogs” of the show. And they still cut people then. It’s a very intense process. And you have to not take it personally because it is so long in the making.
Even though they condense it down to a 10-minute segment, we were actually in there with the sharks for over an hour. We were most happy about the fact that they loved our product. They really respected what we are doing.
The segment aired a couple of months later, and we were just continuing the business just as it was and continuing growing. We got such an amazing response from people who watch the show. People want to give us their time in wanting to help us in any way that they could help us. And it was just a humbling experience.
And then, ABC reached back out to us at some point, telling us that they’ve been hearing from fans that that they want to know what happened to the girls that were on the show: ‘The sisters, what are they doing now?” They asked if they could come back and film what it’s like now.
We had moved into new offices, and the team had grown, and lots of things had happened. We were super excited about that. They came back and filmed, and we ended up getting a surprise visit from Kevin O’Leary. We really were surprised because we really had no idea he was coming. We actually thought it was our brother calling at first. When he came to the office, we ended up making a deal with him. And since then, we’ve been working with him as part of his portfolio.
PYMNTS: So, what’s next for Surprise Ride?
RK: One of the main reasons that people really love our product is that it allows the child to do something that isn’t on the iPad. It’s in the real world. So, continuing to think of other products that we can create that make the life for families easier. Creating more and more products that make parents’ lives easier is one thing that we’re super focused on.
Every year and every quarter, we try to set a goal for the company. This year, we’re super hyper-focused on growth so continuing to put Surprise Ride in places that you want to be.
PYMNTS: What does the Warby of X concept mean to you?
RK: When I think of Warby Parker, I think of a company that’s been super innovative in a space that unfortunately had not been remade in years and years and years. And that’s kind of what we think of us being in the toy space.
For as long as you can remember, it’s been about going to toy stores and picking out a toy for a child. And nothing’s changed. There’s now a focus on education and child development, which we very much think about it. And then, convenience. We will deliver the items right to your home. You don’t have to go to the store and pick it up.
So, when I think of Warby Parker, I think of mostly innovation and disrupting an industry that had been very long overdue to be disrupted. As it relates to Surprise Ride, I see that we’re doing that for the toy space. And I think there’s a very interesting correlation between the two.