My Two-Year Journey with Larry Bock, a Selfless and Legendary Entrepreneur
By Suman Kanuganti, Co-Founder & CEO, Aira
Larry Bock, Aira Co-Founder & its first Executive Chairman, passed away July 6, 2016, from his 13-month battle with cancer.
I knew Larry for only two years, but these were two of the most dynamic, prolific and exciting years of my life because of this man who showed me a path — a path to bring an idea to fruition. That idea was Aira, a startup company that began as a dream in 2014 between me and my partner Yuja Chang to develop technology that helps blind and low-vision people become more mobile and independent. Aira is now fulfilling that dream as an emerging leader in the field of assistive technology — thanks in many ways to us crossing paths with a selfless and forward-thinking serial entrepreneur, innovator and venture capitalist named Larry Bock, who for the past 30 years was nationally known for his stellar achievements in biotech and life sciences startups.
You could say that our initial meeting with him was luck or just fate, but it shaped the future of our fledgling company in important ways. I will always remember the date, May 28, 2014. Yuja and I were then demonstrating the early concept of Aira technology at Dining in the Dark, a prominent event sponsored by Foundation Fighting Blindness (FFB). Larry, legally blind for 25 years, was a speaker at this gathering and at the end of the event, he walked up to us and handed us his card, saying he was very interested in our technology and the company´s mission.
This led to us following up with him for further discussion at his favorite lunch meeting place, Milton’s, located in Delmar. After 4 to 5 months of his due diligence, we got an email from him saying that he would like to join us as an investor and to become our company´s executive chairman. This was in November 2014 and it officially marked the beginning of Aira. He soon joined us in co-founding the company and assisted us in incorporating Aira in February 2015 (and along the way Larry also became an Aira product user). I then quit my job at Intuit to work full time for Aira.
Larry´s influence was later key to many of Aira´s successes in the early development stage, including garnering the company´s first major round of funding from prominent venture capital technology investors, Lux Capital and ARCH Venture Partners.
But even more fundamentally, I will always remember the countless hours that he spent with me and the Aira team in giving us insight into what it takes to make Aira a successful startup in the field of assistive technology. We together spent time planning and conducting interviews and product testing with blind users, in addition to conducting focus groups, attending conferences and events in the blind community, brainstorming, arguing, building the Aira team, product development, and reaching out to other entrepreneurs, investors and stakeholders. I made many new talented connections via Larry Bock that continue to help Aira in different capacities every day, and I am sure into the future.
Working with him and as my mentor helped me grow immensely as a CEO, teaching me specifically to: focus on the details; never to assume anything; save every penny; always be prepared; gain respect by showing it not by asking for it; and to never say no to accepting money from a worthy investor :).
Larry was diagnosed with cancer in Spring of 2015. But that did not stop his involvement and commitment to Aira. For example, even when assisting me in conducting beta trials with blind individuals in San Diego, he would carry his glucose pouch with him as we walked together testing the efficiency of the Aira technology for several hours at a time with users in a wide range of assistive situations and environments. This commitment — demonstrated by his penchant for influencing and inspiring others by his direct actions — also gained the respect of individual blind users. And though he was not always able to be with us as his illness progressed, he was available by phone or email if I had a question on a matter — I would get a response back in no time.
Larry´s love of Aira and his belief in its mission will not be forgotten, but the most significant tribute we can give him is to never let him down in making Aira the best it can be. There will probably not be a week that goes by that I, when faced with a perplexing problem at Aira, won´t ask myself: ¨What would Larry do in this situation?¨ There is a lot of Larry´s ¨DNA¨ instilled not only in me but also in Team Aira. As the company moves forward, we will honor Larry Bock by continuing to develop Aira into the ultimate technology and service that empowers the blind to further explore their world like never before.
We will always remember his smiling face from this photo of him at his last Aira Board meeting.