These days you can learn just about anything from a YouTube video: tying a bow tie, playing the piano or learning math. Salman Khan, a former hedge fund analyst turned online tutor, has produced more than 1,000 YouTube videos ranging from basic multiplication of fractions to polynomial approximation of functions.
He says his Khan Academy Channel started when he worked as a hedge fund analyst in Boston and began tutoring his cousin in New Orleans.
"My cousin Nadia was having trouble placing into the pre-algebra class," Khan tells NPR's Robert Siegel. "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.' "
Word got around among friends and family, and Khan soon had a cohort of about 10 to 15 students.
The evolution to online videos came, Khan says, when it became difficult logistically to manage his work and the kids' soccer practice. He began recording videos and putting them on YouTube. He began with Microsoft Paint and a piece of $20 software called Screen Video Recorder, which let him capture his screen and record it at the same time.
"I just did it because I thought it was the cheapest and fastest way to make a decent quality video," Khan says. "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 2.0 ... I just use that to draw, and I just have a little Wacom graphic pen tablet to do the writing."
Khan's videos cover math, chemistry and biology, but they also cover finance and economics, subjects that came out of last year's financial crisis. He says it began with him reading the Federal Reserve Act.
"I read it about 10 times just to understand all the levers that the Federal Reserve chairman could pull," Khan says. "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.' "
As of now, the site makes about $3,000 a month, mainly through advertising. The money goes to Khan Academy Inc., a not-for-profit organization. Khan says the project is not yet self-sustaining, but he is optimistic.
"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, though 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. ... 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 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."