Interview with entrepreneurs
a) The Entrepreneur Before They Started The Venture
-Did the entrepreneur have parents that were entrepreneurial?
-What is the entrepreneur’s educational background?
-What is the entrepreneur’s previous work experience (before starting the venture)?
-Did the entrepreneur have any role models when growing up?
-Did the entrepreneur do entrepreneurial things as a youth?
-When did the entrepreneur know he/she wanted to be an entrepreneur?
b) The Entrepreneur At The Time He/She Started The Venture
-What was the entrepreneur’s primary motivation for starting a business? What were the factors that led him/her to start the venture?
-What were the entrepreneur’s goals at the time they started the venture
-What sort of beliefs did the entrepreneur have (e.g., about employees, partners, debt, etc.)
-Did the entrepreneur seek to establish a “lifestyle” business, a “rapid growth” business, or what? Did their growth orientation change over time?
-What sort of resources (not just financial) did the entrepreneur have when they started the venture? What sort of network did they have? Were there any especially creative things they did to come up with the needed resources?
-How concerned was the entrepreneur with control when starting the venture? Explore their need for control (of the venture, of people, of decision-making).
-What was the entrepreneur’s risk orientation when they started the venture?
-Did the entrepreneur write a business plan?
-Did the entrepreneur feel prepared to start the venture at the time he/she started it?
-How long was a typical work day and work week when the entrepreneur first started the venture?
c) The Entrepreneur As She/He Grew The Venture
-How have the entrepreneur’s goals and values changed since they started the venture?
-Did the entrepreneur’s risk orientation change as the venture grew?
-Did the entrepreneur’s need for control change as the venture grew?
-Did the typical work week change as the venture grew (in terms of how much time the venture required and in terms of how the entrepreneur allocated his/her time)?
-Did the entrepreneur make assumptions when they first started out that subsequently proved to be wrong? What sort of insights were gained?
-What key mistakes did the entrepreneur make along the way? What were some of the key lessons learned? (ask about their greatest moment and their worst moment)
-Were there some critical points in the development of the venture when the venture almost failed, or when the entrepreneur found himself/herself at a critical crossroads in terms of some vital decision or issue that had to be addressed in a certain way or the venture would have failed?
d) The Entrepreneur Today And Tomorrow
-What would the entrepreneur do differently if they had it all to do over again?
-What key personal characteristics does the entrepreneur see in himself or herself that were especially critical for achieving success with this particular venture?
-What are the entrepreneur’s plans for the future in terms of the venture?
-What is the entrepreneur’s “exit strategy” or do they have one?
-What advice, based on his/her own experience, does the entrepreneur have for a student interested in starting a venture today?
The final section of the write up should address how the findings of the interview apply or are meaningful to the student himself or herself. What did the student learn or discover that has meaning for their own plans, for their own future? What did you discover about yourself?
Another useful idea is to structure your interview with the easier questions up front. Build up to the more threatening or personal questions, and then end with some questions that are more reflective and future looking. Don’t accept superficial answers if you can avoid them. Don’t accept the politically correct response. It is critical that you probe. Ask people to elaborate or explain what they mean, or why.