Get to know Salman (Sal) Khan


AAHOACON19 Speaker and Founder of Khan Academy

by Zohreen Ismail

AAHOA will be welcoming Sal Khan to the AAHOACON stage this April in San Diego. Today’s Hotelier connected with Salman to get to know him and what we can expect at AAHOACON19.

What advice do you have for business owners who are facing challenges?

“My advice would be to try and have really objective radar. Are you truly getting traction? Are you getting impact and providing value? If the answer is yes, then I would say find ways to stick with it. There was a good year or year and a half where you may realize people are finding value, but ends are not meeting yet. Be honest with yourself; if you’re not getting value, don’t dilute yourself.”

Why did you decide to make Khan Academy a non-profit institution?

“At the time, it was a gut feeling, but I’ve developed a philosophy about this. I found there are two spaces where markets don’t do a good job meeting the values of society – healthcare and education. Education is a social justice issue; it should be a basic right.

“If you are someone who is trying to tap into potential, we as a society believe you should be able to do that. I didn’t feel good about the idea of creating valuable resources and if some kid on the planet wants to learn, we’ve put some friction on that.”

How has being the first generation born in the U.S. driven you to succeed?

“My family immigrated to Louisiana in the ’60s. My dad, a physician, went back to the motherland and got an arranged marriage to my mother. Later, my parents divorced and my dad passed away, so I never really got to know him.

“Being raised by a single mother trying to make ends meet, I learned that life can be a struggle if you don’t have a lot of resources. However, being part of the south-Asian community allowed me to see what can be accomplished through education.”

Khan Academy has grown a lot over the Past 10 years. What developments are happening that you’re excited about?

“Impact has grown 1,000-fold, reaching close to 20 million students every month. We have a lot of studies showing Khan Academy is driving growth, for example data shows that using our free Official SAT Prep for 20 hours is associated with an average score gain of 115 points. Our goal right now is to make sure students are able to realize it’s a tool for them and engage in a regular way.”

What is your favorite book?

“The Foundation series by Isaac Asimov. A quick synopsis is a mathematician develops a branch of mathematics and can predict the future. He foresees the fall of the Galactic Empire and a period of a dark age that lasts 30,000 years. So, he tries to reduce this misery as much as possible through knowledge.

“It combines emotion and the connection of the oral tradition of sitting around the campfire and sharing knowledge.”

As a child, what was your favorite subject?

“Math and physics!”

How did you discover that education was your passion?

“For me, it was slowly discovered. I started seeing certain kids were able to progress, whereas others were struggling. The system projects labels on students, so I started seeing the same friend that can’t pass algebra can beat me at chess.

“As president of the math honors society, I tutored my peers and helped them.”

Can you give a short teaser of what AAHOACON19 attendees can expect from your speech?

“I think attendees will be familiar with Khan Academy, the vision of what we collectively as society can do to transform for the better. Basically, I’ll share the journey of how I got to this, how to find your purpose, and how to power through difficult journeys as an entrepreneur.”


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