Yuja Chang – Co-Founder of Aira

Yuja Chang - Co-Founder of Aira

Recently, we’ve interviewed Mr. Yuja Chang, the Co-Founder of Aira, a service that uses artificial intelligence and augmented reality to connect blind and low vision individuals to highly trained agents who assist in everyday tasks. Mr. Chang has also been deemed a Forbes 30 Under 30 Social Entrepreneur in 2018 due to his work in his professional field.

When asked about his roots, he emphasizes the importance of bringing about positive change to society. From an early age, Mr. Chang has been involved in non-profits and enjoyed creating new solutions to existing problems. He credits his own principles as well as the hard work of those around him from his co-founders and workers to his company’s current success.

His inspiration and role model is someone very close to him: a co-founder and his previous manager at Intuit, Somon Kannuganti. Aside from his entrepreneurial and technological skills, he credits Somon for teaching him soft skills like resilience, compassion, and drive, all of which shape Mr. Chang in his work and personal life. He specifically warns against solutionism, or solving a non-existent problem, which is derived from setting vague goals such as wanting to “make the world a better place.” Rather, entrepreneurs should hone in on the specifics of their goals in creating a modern solution with technological breakthroughs.

In college, Mr. Chang partook in a foundation where he aided underprivileged children with eye diseases in relatively low-income areas. Using image analysis and modern computing algorithms, his foundation administered low-cost tests that enabled children to receive help exactly when they needed it. Mr. Chang admits that he didn’t even know this problem existed until he was out there in these communities and interacted with doctors and their patients. He says this changed his perspective on his life regarding satisfaction and fulfillment in helping others even though it was just a small community in San Diego.

Mr. Chang always believed that modern technology could be used to mitigate the disabilities of blind people, a belief he felt was reaffirmed when Google Glass came out in 2014. Although these glasses received much criticism concerning privacy and practical use, Mr. Chang took this as inspiration to alleviate the effects of becoming blind.

Mr. Chang’s hardest challenge was hiring and training agents on how to communicate with blind patients efficiently and accurately. The common-sense answer is often not the best approach in this area; communication involves many intricacies that only continued interaction between agents and patients can solve. To hire these agents, Aira makes sure to look for people who can communicate effectively since most users urgently need information. More than communication, however, Aira looks for those with empathy; he is not looking for those who will simply treat it as a job but instead one who is passionate in answering their calling to help society.

His connections from professors, classmates, alumni, and other professionals through his classes and clubs were his main takeaway from Wharton that helped him succeed in starting up his company and gaining funding. Concerning impactful classes, he recalls a class called “Innovation” where his professor shared his experiences as an inventor and entrepreneur. By learning from others’ experiences/failures and thereby gaining some of their wisdom, Mr. Chang was able to take a more data-driven approach in augmenting his product and company.

His work with McKinsey is also incredibly methodical and data-driven. A large portion of his work includes sharing his knowledge and expertise to guide in making decisions. He emphasizes the importance of utilizing more data to develop sound and concise judgments to help clients who are generally more guided by tradition or feelings rather than past results. His primary criteria for judging a client is passion as he believes it has the highest correlation with success. Mr. Chang also states that passion is almost impossible to fake, which is the reason it is his number one standard for hiring since genuineness can be judged in less than ten minutes.

For high school students, he urges them to “not underestimate your ability to create impact.” He illustrates that many solutions are often overlooked by highly trained professionals which seem like common sense to a new eye. Mr. Chang stands against letting the adults in the room dictating what you do since exploration is the best way to learn. He recommends that “whenever you see some opportunity, just jump on it – no matter how big or small it is.” Making an impact on society is a long process and does not occur overnight. It’s a daily process that involves the design and problem-solving procedure. By making a conscious effort every day to plan solutions to problems, you can build up to becoming a social entrepreneur; taking chances, remaining determined despite failure, and empathizing with others are all integral to the journey.