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Ex-Hedge Fund Analyst Finds Calling On YouTube

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Ex-Hedge Fund Analyst Finds Calling On YouTube


Ex-Hedge Fund Analyst Finds Calling On YouTube

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel. And it's time now for All Tech Considered.

(Soundbite of music)

SIEGEL: These days you can learn just about anything from a YouTube video.

(Soundbite of video)

Unidentified Man: First of all we're going to put this bow around his neck�

SIEGEL: A South Carolina man teaches us how to tie a bow tie. His YouTube video has been viewed more than 650 thousand times or maybe you've always wanted to learn how to play the piano.

(Soundbite of piano)

Unidentified Woman: Let's make this thing minor shall we? We take the middle finger and move it down a half step (unintelligible).

(Soundbite of piano)

SIEGEL: Today on All Tech Considered, we're going to talk with a man who his devoting his life to creating YouTube tutorials.

(Soundbite of video)

Mr. SALMAN KHAN (Hedge Fund Analyst, Former): Welcome to the presentation on multiplying fractions. Today, you'll be very happy because you'll find out that this is one of the few times were multiplying something is easier than adding it. And if you don't believe me let's do some problems.

SIEGEL: That is Salman Khan, not the Salman Khan who is a Bollywood star. This is the Salman Khan, former hedge fund analyst turned online tutor. He has produced more than 1,000 YouTube videos ranging from basic multiplication of fractions to polynomial approximation of functions. And he joins us now from Silicon Valley in California, welcome.

Mr. KHAN: Thanks.

SIEGEL: Your channel on YouTube is called the Khan Academy Channel. Why did you decide to become a tutor online?

Mr. KHAN: It happened fairly organically. I started remotely tutoring some of my cousins in New Orleans. I was working, as you mentioned, as a hedge fund analyst in Boston, at the time. My cousin Nadia(ph) was having trouble placing into the pre-algebra class. So, I talked to Nadia a little bit, and I said, how about you and me do some remote tutoring after I come home from work and you come home from school? We'll get a conference call going, and maybe we'll use instant messenger or we'll find something else. We ended up using Yahoo Doodle and word got around amongst friends and family and I had a little cohort of about 10 or 15 students.

And then it just became difficult logistically between my work and their soccer practice. And I had to keep tutoring the same lessons over and over again depending on how old they were. So, I decided to just record my lessons, but in the same style that I was doing with Nadia that seemed to be effective. And I started just recording it and putting them on YouTube. And even your or my great, great grandkids could learn from these same videos.

SIEGEL: Now I've watched a few of them. You never appear on screen, just a mouse arrow that draws in different colors on a black background and you narrate. How are you actually making this?

Mr. KHAN: When I started it was - literally, I took Microsoft Paint, made the background black, picked some fluorescent colors. And I used this shareware, I think it was called Screen Video Recorder, it was a $20 piece of software to capture my screen and to record my voice at the same time and that would just produce the videos. I just did it because that was I thought the cheapest and fastest way to make a decent quality video. Since then, one of the viewers actually donated a $300 piece of software called Camtasia Recorder for the screen capture. And now I use another piece of shareware called SmoothDraw 2, I think it's called. I use that to draw, and I just have a little Wacom graphic pen tablet to do the writing.

SIEGEL: Now, let's go through some of the range of what you're doing tutorials in mathematics and chemistry, biology.

Mr. KHAN: Yeah. In the non-sciences there's obviously a lot on finance and economics. Actually, a lot of that comes from last year during the financial crisis. And my hedge fund world, I put all my money in cash and I started reading the Federal Reserve Act. I read it about 10 times just to understand all the levers that the Federal Reserve chairman could pull. And I said, well, what's a better use of my time than whatever I just learned? Let me make a series of YouTube videos on fractional reserve banking and the Federal Reserve. And I don't plan on limiting myself to just the math and the sciences.

SIEGEL: Now, here is something I noticed while watching a tutorial you were giving about stocks. You were, I think, making the point that a stock that costs $1 a share is not necessarily cheaper than a stock that costs $10 a share. As I'm watching it, a crawl comes across the bottom from Google directing me to a Web site where I can look over the prospectus for various penny stocks. It's an advertisement and indeed the advertisement is actually based on a proposition that you're shooting down in the course of the tutorial.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIEGEL: So, who is advertising? How many of your courses are advertised? And how do you feel about this kind of education being underwritten by a sponsor?

Mr. KHAN: The advertising is what YouTube puts up just by virtue of it being on YouTube. I do share some of the revenue. It's pushing about $1,500 of revenue to Khan Academy Inc, which is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization. So, it's going to the organization right now. It's not coming to me as a salary in any way right now.

SIEGEL: Without the advertising, are you - I mean, I know you were working for hedge fund before. But are you - is this self-sustaining? Can you support this as a career doing it based on people free of charge looking at videos?

Mr. KHAN: Well, right now it isn't a self-sustaining as of today. I joke that it's being funded by the Salman Khan Bank of America checking account. My wife has given me a year to make it self-sustaining, although I think she'll give me a little more leeway than that. If I get no outside support, there are the donations that are coming in from the viewers themselves. That's bringing in about $1,500 a month. I have this kind of Loki ads that you mentioned that are just off of YouTube.

If I were to be aggressive with the advertising, which I don't want to be, I could probably generate another few thousand dollars a month. And at the rate that the viewership is growing � it's growing at about 15 or 20 percent per month � I'm reasonably confident that in about a year, the site itself could pay my rent and put food on the table.

SIEGEL: Are you a faculty of one at the Khan Academy?

Mr. KHAN: I currently am. There are people who have come out of the woodworks really in the last two months or so to volunteer translating the videos. There's a chemistry teacher in Uruguay who did the first translation. There is an effort going on to translate into Arabic, into Polish, into Portuguese, into German. But right now all of the content is and has been generated by me.

SIEGEL: You come across in these videos as a very natural teacher. And I wonder on the way through MIT and Harvard Business School and the hedge fund trade, did you ever just consider becoming a teacher?

Mr. KHAN: I actually was a teacher for - just to make some extra cash. During college I was an MCAT instructor for the Princeton Review for one summer and I used to volunteer teaching middle school kids at the Devotion School in Brookline. It's something that I really enjoy but the economics of the hedge fund world were a little bit better.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIEGEL: You could have done a very simple tutorial�

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIEGEL: �on the difference between the pay of a hedge fund analyst and a teacher. When you're teaching online there is not a real time exchange with the students and their comments to you aren't coming back in real time. Do you think that would be an added virtue of education or does it matter that much?

Mr. KHAN: I think this is an advantage I have over a traditional teacher. Just from my limited experience from teaching live, one of the hardest thing is to sit in front of a classroom of 20 or 30 students and maybe five of them are giving you a nice, attentive expression and the rest of them have blank faces. You don't know if they're bored or falling behind and it makes you insecure and you don't know what to do next. But I go to my computer, spend 10 minutes, explain something as I would explain it to you or my cousin, and then I upload it on YouTube. The whole process takes, you know, maybe half an hour. And within an hour of putting a video a few hundred people will watch it and I wait for them to give that YouTube five-star rating and put a couple of comments up saying oh, this is so great. I was going to fail this class. Now I'm going to pass the exam tomorrow, whatever else�

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. KHAN: �so I wait for that feedback and that gives me the confidence to keep going.

SIEGEL: Salman Khan who teaches math, science, finance and much more at Thank you very much for talking with us.

Mr. KHAN: Thank you very much.

SIEGEL: This is NPR News.

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