I often advise my mentees in very early stage companies, and I see a lot of stage zero companies at the MIT Venture Mentoring Service, to do informational interviews to gather first hand market research about their idea and to test its validity. Informational interviews are also a great way to network, as you shouldn’t conclude an interview without asking for other people you could talk with.
I’ve found that most successful people are glad to talk with budding entrepreneurs – so long as they don’t feel like they are being sold to – because they like to give back.
This article from Forbes Mastering the Informational Interview by David Schwab is a very good primer on how to conduct an informational interview. While it’s geared toward young professionals and students with one goal: to help make you a more viable candidate it’s a worthwhile read for budding entrepreneurs who aren’t looking for a job, but can benefit greatly from conducting an informational interview.
See also my post How to get meetings with people too busy to see you: do your homework!
He outlines four major tasks:
- Know How to Differentiate Yourself
- Social Media is the Best Interview Tool Ever, if you Use it Wisely
- Respect My Time, but Make It Work for You
- Always Look for Learning Opportunities
And of course, Mr. Schwab highlights the value of mentoring:
Mentorship is an excellent way to grow, learn and connect with others across your industry, but it takes effort from both parties. The younger professional needs to come to the table with questions, observations and ideas a mentor can respond to. Remember, it is not who you know, but who knows you.
Sample questions to ask:
- Who are your mentors?
As the saying goes, Inside this room all we have is opinions; outside this room are the facts. So if you have a startup idea, get out of your office or apartment and start talking with people who can provide you valuable information that you can use to turn an idea into a viable product or service.