Young VC Abie Katz leaves college to pursue startup culture

We meet the most interesting people in the strangest places. After a long day at TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2011 bouncing from meeting to meeting, I was on my way out to catch a cab home when Abie Katz stopped me to ask for directions to the Disrupt after party. Not being one to act outside of kindness, I elected to walk with him there, all the while discussing who exactly he was and why it is that he was attending Disrupt.

A few blocks later and after arriving at the venue, Katz had perhaps unknowingly convinced me that his story is one that is meant to be shared. Many of us in the tech scene can easily get caught up in the specifics, the money, the million dollar investments and powerful figures behind big moves in the industry.

When it comes down to it, it is the stories behind those big moves and the real people in them that truly inspire. Katz is one such individual whose story reflects the adventures that many entrepreneurs hoping to move to Silicon Valley or any other startup-obsessed environment are able to find motivation from.

As it turns out, Katz is a young hopeful who has recently taken a leave of absence from college to pursue interning as a VC, all while being well below the legal drinking age in California. Wired magazine called him “The Next Mark Zuckerberg” when he was only 17-years-old. Check out our interview below.

Chatting with Abie Katz

Sherilynn Macale (SM): Give me a little tidbit on who you are.

Abie Katz (AK): I am 20 years old and am an intern at Merus Capital, an early-stage VC firm focused on investing in software companies. I started working for Merus Capital in July.

SM: What year were you in college and what made you decide to take time off to pursue being a VC?

AK: I went to college for a year, so when I return I will be a Sophomore. That being said, I am ahead in courses so if and when I return to college I plan on graduating in two years.

After my freshman year of college I had no clue what I wanted to major in and had a passion for startups and was fascinated by venture capital. I was actually planning on returning to college for my Sophomore year but during the summer my plans changed. I was interning for a startup called Sweet Labs and was learning a ton, gaining valuable work experience and having a great time.

I took the risk of accepting an offer to turn my summer internship into a full time position. I wanted to see what it was like working for a startup for more than a summer to see if a career in the startup world was for me. After 8 months on the job I was ready for a change of pace so I travelled for a few months and during that time I started doing some due diligence work for Merus Capital. Merus Capital liked the work that I did and decided to give me a shot.

SM: What sort of feedback have you been getting from people about your decision (positive and negative), and how do their opinions affect you?

AK: I have gotten a wide range of feedback from people, most of which has been positive but I have had critics as well. I have tried to incorporate the feedback that I have gotten from others but at the end of the day the decision to take a leave of absence from college was mine. It has been difficult having some people that I respect tell me that I am making a mistake by not finishing my degree but I know that I can return

College is a very cherished institution and there are definitely benefits that come from completing a degree but at this point in time I want to gain additional work experience and perspective before returning to college. What one decides to major in and what career path one wants to focus on are major decisions and getting some work experience is a great way to make a more informed decision.

SM: Are you allowed to disclose any of the startups you’ve recently invested in, and if so, which are your most promising?

AK: Two recent investments that I am especially excited about are Authentic8 and ModeWalk. Authentic8 is making a secure “disposable browser” in the cloud and was founded by Scott Petry and Ramesh Rajagopal, the former Founder/CTO and the former VP of Corporate Development of Postini respectively. Modewalk is creating an immersive online shopping experience where you can meet and shop from the finest designers.

SM: Also, have you invested in startups in the past who have already done exceptionally well (table-names)?

AK: Merus Capital’s exits include I/O Turbine which sold to Fusion-io for $95 Million and Chai Labs which was acquired by Facebook. At Merus Capital, we often invest in B2B companies that are more behind the scenes. Current notable portfolio companies include AdRoll which is the largest ad re-targeting platform and Ansca Mobile that makes Corona SDK, a mobile game development tool which has powered over 24 million downloads.

SM: Can you see your story being inspirational to other potential VC’s? And what basic advice can you give them?

AK: I think the real inspiring stories are the stories of entrepreneurs. They are the ones who are taking the biggest risks and are dedicating their lives to creating great products that can change the world. To other aspiring VCs, I hope my story demonstrates that it is possible, with a bit of luck, to break into the Venture Capital field.

For those who want to break into venture, it is important to have a passion for startups. Work for startups, create startups, read about startups, write about startups, attend startup events etc… On top of that, try to build a relationship with Venture Capitalists over time so when they are looking to make a hire, you will be fresh in their mind. Also, Chris Dixon has written a must read post for those interested in working in Venture Capital at a junior level that I highly recommend.