Surprise Ride in the Washington Post

The Download: Surprise Ride leaves the Shark Tank without a bite

By Steven Overly

Local entrepreneurs Donna and Rosy Khalife stepped into ABC’s “Shark Tank” and walked away without a bite.

The sisters have built a budding business called Surprise Ride that ships a box of childrens activities to parents each month for a subscription fee.

In pursuit of money to grow the business, the sisters appeared on “Shark Tank,” a show that gives entreprenerus the chance to pitch their business to a panel of investors who have themselves built businesses worth millions or billions of dollars. Some entrepreneurs walk away with a check, most walk away empty handed.

“Families everywhere want to give their kids a good reason to put away the video games and explore the world through hands-on play,” Rosy Khalife, 22, told the potential investors.

The panel initially seemed to agree. The investors thought the monthly packages were well-designed and were impressed by 29-year-old Donna Khalife’s business acumen, shaped by several years on Wall Street and an MBA from Harvard Business School.

But the negotiations went off track when the sisters’ request of $110,000 in exchange for 10 percent of the company meant they valued Surprise Ride at $1.1 million. Some of the investors thought that was too high and bowed out.

“I know what it’s like to be a woman in business and I know sometimes it can be harder,” said Shark Tank panelist Lori Greiner, known as the “Queen of QVC.” “But I also know you can make anything happen if you put your mind to it. Doing it on your own, that’s how you’re going to learn.”

Robert Herjavec, a former technology executive, was the only Shark to make an offer — $110,000 in exchange for 25 percent of the company. When the sisters hedged, Herjavec withdrew the offer.

“You don’t live in the real world. You live in the world of theory,” Herjavec said, referring to Donna Khalife’s educational background. “I made you a generous offer for you and for me.”

Though Surprise Ride walked away without any fresh capital in the bank — QualComm founder Irwin Jacobs has invested $100,000 in the business — Donna Khalife said they don’t regret the failed deal.

“In the end, we didn’t want to give away so much of our company and him taking his offer back showed us maybe he wasn’t as committed as we would have hoped,” she said.

Still, the television exposure alone has been beneficial to the firm.

”We’ve haven’t quite made it through all the incoming e-mails, but there’s been quite a bit of interest from investors from all walks of life, from VCs to grandmas who really loved our story and want to be part of it,” she said.

Additionally, Surprise Ride has seen the number of subscribers spike since the show aired on Nov. 15, she said, just in time for the holiday season.

The sisters, who spoke on the show about their family’s escape from war-torn Lebanon years ago, have even enjoyed their own degree of celebrity.

“We’ve gotten recognized a few times on our lunch break near our office in Dupont and it’s been such a pleasure to hear that people have been inspired by our story,” Donna Khalife said.


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