INSIDER FEATURED ARTICLE
How Carra Wu, a 23-year-old crypto investor, went from intern to Andreessen Horowitz partner in a year
Melia Russell and Emily Quiles
- Andreessen Horowitz's Carra Wu is a 23-year-old rising star in crypto investing.
- She broke into venture capital after dropping out of Harvard and interning at Apple and Microsoft.
- Colleagues say Wu's zest for learning led the firm to promote her from intern to partner in a year.
As Carra Wu's internship at Apple came to an end in late 2020, the Harvard dropout weighed her options.
She could continue her career at the tech giant. She could go back to school or join a startup; her turn at tech giants like Apple and Microsoft before that gave her a ticket to any buzzy unicorn.
On a whim, Wu emailed a venture capitalist she admired, Arianna Simpson, a crypto partner at the firm Andreessen Horowitz. In six sentences, she explained her position and asked for advice on how she could get involved in crypto.
That cold email changed the course of Wu's career.
This is the story of how an ambitious 20-something, unsure of her future, created her own path.
In March 2021, Wu landed a coveted internship at Andreessen Horowitz, or A16Z, the Silicon Valley venture-capital firm that's reached deeper into the crypto market than any rival firm, with an estimated $9 billion in crypto-specific funds. Within a few months, the firm had promoted Wu to deal analyst and fast-tracked her to deal partner at her first anniversary — making her the firm's youngest check writer and a rising star in the crypto investing world.
Only 23 years old, Wu already has the money and might of A16Z behind her. She's helped lead investments in hot startups such as Friends With Benefits, a social club for crypto boosters; Axie Infinity, an online game where players collect virtual creatures; and Yield Guild Games, a service that lets players earn real money from playing games.
The budding crypto industry is fertile ground for investment, providing a rare opportunity for young investors who grew up on the internet. They're getting hired in entry roles at firms like A16Z, Sequoia, NFX, and Paradigm that need people to pound the phones, searching for startups where the firms can invest their billion-dollar crypto funds.
If all goes to plan, those startups might blossom into businesses sought after by later-stage investors, and the young investors who found them could reap their share of the firm's profits as well as the recognition of their colleagues. In recent years, some of these wunderkinds have used their brands to leave big firms and raise their own funds.
The winding road to venture
Most investors come to venture through one of two paths. Either they founded a company with a successful exit or they leaped from private equity or investment banking.
Reflecting on how she broke into venture capital, Wu said, "I climbed through a window."
She dropped out of Harvard not once, but twice. The first time, in 2018, she left school to join Apptimize, an analytics startup that considered a pivot to crypto before it was sold to Airship the following year. After a few months, she went back to school to finish her degree in applied math, computer science, and economics.
While she was a student, Wu got hired in 2019 as an intern at the Microsoft Garage, a program that enables employees from across the company to develop their ideas into real-world products. After that, she consulted for the Air Force's Kessel Run software factory, where she was part of a student team making recommendations on how it could develop software better and faster.
Halfway through the program, the pandemic hit, and Wu dropped out of school again. That's when she went to Apple and worked on the company's video-game strategy as an intern.
During her short tenure, she got some advice from a coworker that stuck.
"You don't have to know what your core passion in life is," the coworker told her. "You can just try a lot of things and figure out what you like about each thing. Then slowly move the needle to the thing you really like."
In 2020, Wu realized that she didn't want to work at a Big Tech company like Apple, where she said she saw how red tape frustrated some of the engineers. And an emerging industry was calling to her.
From intern to partner in a year
During the first year of the pandemic, bitcoin and other digital currencies rose in price and adoption. Suddenly, a marketplace opened for things people wanted to buy and use with tokens. It unleashed a wave of projects in decentralized finance, consumer, the arts, and gaming that attracted new users and piles of money. Wu took notice.
With that, she decided to go "all-in" on crypto. That's when she asked Simpson if she'd take her on as an intern.
The firm had never hired an intern on the crypto team.
"They want to invest in people who will stay for the long term," Wu said.
For part of her job application, Wu wrote an investment memo on Uniswap, an exchange for buying and selling crypto. The open-source nature of the exchange made it possible for her to access the company's data sets.
"I wrote code. I made data dashboards. I developed an opinion," she said.
And Wu landed the internship.
Right away, she felt as though the team had given her the runway to focus on her interests — crypto gaming and decentralized autonomous organizations, or DAOs — and develop relationships with founders. Wu's hunger for learning made her unstoppable, Simpson later tweeted. She asked questions without worrying about looking foolish, Simpson said.
That tenacity led the firm to promote her to deal analyst last summer.
In October, Wu negotiated her first deal for a startup she knew other investors were circling. Hours after seeing the pitch, Simpson told Wu to make an offer. The young investor stepped away from a dinner to call the founders.
There was a hiccup. The founders said they'd already filled the funding round with other investors and had only a small allocation left. But Wu knew the firm would invest only if it could take a larger percentage of the company ownership. She explained this to the founders and sold them on the services that a firm like A16Z could provide. In the end, the founders agreed to cut back the allocations for other investors to make room in the round for A16Z.
"That was a huge moment for me but terrifying," Wu said, adding that the many hours of training she got from other partners at the firm made her feel "completely prepared for that conversation."
In March, Wu was promoted again to deal partner (though it's worth noting that Andreessen Horowitz is known for inflating job titles, and a partner at A16Z is similar to a principal at another venture firm).
Even though Wu has only been at A16Z for a year, she might see a shorter path to a general-partner promotion after a shake-up at the firm in December, when crypto investor Katie Haun split and took some of the firm's employees with her.
But for now, Wu's focus is on strengthening her founder network and soaking up the wisdom of her coworkers. She loves being an investor, she said, but she hasn't ruled out other career paths.
"I have over time let go of the idea of having a grand plan," she said.