By interviewing entrepreneurs who have, within the past 5 to 10 years, started firms whose sales now exceed $2 million to $3 million and are profitable, you can gain insight into an entrepreneur’s reasons, strategies, approaches, and motivations for starting and owning a business. Gathering information with interviews is a valuable skill to practice. You can learn a great deal in a short time through interviewing if you prepare thoughtfully and thoroughly. This exercise (“Visit with an Entrepreneur”) has helped students interview successful entrepreneurs. While there is no right way to structure an interview, the format in this exercise has been tested successfully on many occasions. A breakfast, lunch, or dinner meeting is often an excellent vehicle. Select two entrepreneurs and businesses related to restaurant and construction industry. This could be someone you see as an example or role model to which you aspire, or which you know the least about but are eager to learn. Interview the entrepreneurs with differing experiences, such as a high-potential (i.e., $5 million revenue) and a lifestyle business (usually much smaller, but not necessarily).
Contact the Person You Have Selected and Make an Appointment. Be sure to explain why you want the appointment and to give a realistic estimate of how much time you will need.
Identify Specific Questions You Would Like to Have Answered and the General Areas about Which You Would Like Information. (See the Interview In Step 3.) Using a combination of open-ended questions, such as general questions about how the entrepreneur got started, what happened next, and so forth, and closed-end questions, such as specific questions about what his or her goals were, if he or she had to find partners, and so forth, will help keep the interview focused and yet allow for unexpected comments and insights.
Conduct the Interview. Recording this interview can be helpful and is recommended unless you or the person being interviewed objects. Remember, too, that you most likely will learn more if you are an interested listener. You can find interview questions on page 23 and 24 of your textbooks.
Evaluate What You Have Learned. Summarize the most important observations and insights you have gathered from these interviews. Contrast especially what patterns, differences, and similarities exist between lifestyle and high-potential entrepreneurs. Who can be an entrepreneur? What surprised you the most? What was confirmed about entrepreneurship? What new insights emerged? What are the implications for you personally, your goals, and your career aspirations?
Write a Thank You Note. This is more than a courtesy; it will also help the entrepreneur remember you favorably should you want to follow up on the interview.
Write a 4-to-6-page summary of your two interviews, and what you have discovered about yourself and your goals as a result of the interviews.
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