Self Help

The Mom Test how to talk to customers and learn if your business is a good idea when everybody is lying to you - Rob Fitzpatrick

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Matheus Puppe

· 16 min read



  • The book is about having effective customer conversations to validate business ideas. This is difficult because customers often lie or give biased feedback.

  • The author proposes using the “Mom Test” - asking good questions that even your mother can’t lie about to determine if there is a real problem or need.

  • He describes an example conversation where a son asks his mother if she would buy a digital cookbook app for the iPad. The son fails the Mom Test by asking leading questions and not genuinely exploring the problem.

  • Some signs it failed include the mom giving lukewarm and non-committal responses, questioning the price, and offering a feature request to appease the son rather than out of real need.

  • The author warns that misinterpreting conversations like this as validation can lead founders to prematurely commit to the idea without truly validating the problem or fit.

  • The book aims to provide practical guidelines for how to structure customer conversations to avoid biases and uncover real customer needs and feedback through asking the right questions.

Here is a summary of the key points about pecially since he had been so rigorous:

  • The passage does not mention anything about “pecially since he had been so rigorous”. That phrase is not in the text.

  • The passage is providing advice on how to have better customer conversations by following “The Mom Test” - talking about the customer’s life instead of your idea, asking about specifics from the past instead of generics or opinions, and listening more than talking.

  • It gives examples of good questions that follow The Mom Test principles by asking about customers’ current processes and challenges, versus bad questions that ask for opinions on hypothetical future products or pricing.

  • The overall message is that customer conversations are usually bad by default, so you need to consciously structure your questions according to The Mom Test in order to get useful insights rather than misleading opinions. Focusing the conversation on understanding the customer experience helps avoid false positives.

  • The phrase in the summary prompt does not appear in the provided text, so there is no context or details about that specific point. The summary focuses on the key advice given in the passage about improving customer conversations.

  • The founders are talking about problems they want to solve, but they don’t really know how to solve those problems. This is a common issue where people can identify problems but not the solutions.

  • Asking questions like “Why do you bother?” and “What are the implications of that?” helps get to the core of the real problem, not just the perceived problem. It helps understand the motivations and impact.

  • Other good questions to ask include “Talk me through the last time that happened” to understand their specific workflows and processes, “What else have you tried?” to see if they’ve already looked for solutions, and “Would you pay X for a product that did Y?” avoids hypothetical questions and focuses on their current practices and costs.

  • The key is to understand the customer’s perspective - their goals, problems, workflows, budgets - rather than focusing on pitching your own ideas. Ask questions to reveal the real problems and implications from their point of view.

  • Compliments are usually not very meaningful and should be deflected to get more useful feedback. People may compliment out of politeness even if they don’t truly like or want what is being proposed.

  • “Anchoring fluff” means following up generic claims with more specific questions about past experiences. Generic claims use words like “usually”, “always”, “would”, etc. to describe hypothetical future scenarios rather than concrete past realities.

  • Specific questions to anchor fluff include asking for the most recent time something occurred, having the person describe a past example in detail, or discussing what other alternatives they have tried. This moves the discussion from hypotheticals to facts.

  • Common fluffy phrases to avoid accepting at face value include “I would definitely buy that” and questions beginning with “Do you ever…”, “Would you ever…”, etc. While not toxic to ask, the responses are not very meaningful.

  • The goal is to transition fluffy responses into more concrete discussions about specific past experiences to get truly useful feedback and understanding of customer needs and pain points. Compliments and fluff disguise real opinions and block meaningful conversation.

Here’s a summary of the key points:

  • When pitching an idea or product, avoid hypothetical questions like “would you ever use this?” and focus on understanding customers’ actual needs and behaviors.

  • When people complain generically, dig deeper by anchoring the conversation in their specific experiences with existing solutions. This provides useful insights rather than empty promises.

  • When people start listing ideas and feature requests, don’t immediately add them to your to-do list. Dig below the surface by asking why those features are important and how they are currently coping without them.

  • Understand the true motivation and root cause driving requests, rather than taking them at face value. You may find simpler solutions that better fit actual needs.

  • Any strong emotional reaction is worth exploring further through questions. Don’t move on without understanding where emotions are coming from.

  • Avoid building unnecessary features just to check boxes on requests. Focus on delivering value through the simplest viable solution to core customer problems.

The key is to avoid superficial conversations and dig deeper through targeted questions to uncover true customer needs, motivations, experiences and pain points. This provides far more useful insights than hypothetical ideas or feature wishlists.

  • It’s important to dig deeper when getting feedback or requests by asking follow up questions like “Why?”, “What would that allow you to do?”, etc. This gives more context and helps understand the real issues or needs.

  • When discussing ideas or projects, keep the focus on the other person and their experiences rather than pitching your own idea. Watch out for seeking approval or coming across as too “pitchy”.

  • Important questions are those that could completely change or disprove your idea if the answer is unexpected. You should be terrified of at least one question in every conversation.

  • Asking difficult but important questions is scary but necessary for learning the truth. Bad news, while frustrating, is better than wasting time and resources if it avoids pursuing a flawed idea.

  • The goal is finding the truth, not just validation. Ignoring bad news while looking for compliments prevents progress towards a real solution for customers. Love learning what isn’t working instead of just hoping for approval.

In summary, dig deep with follow ups, keep the focus outward, ask scary questions, and love getting bad news - it’s the fastest path to understanding problems and opportunities.

  • Lukewarm or indifferent responses like “Umm, I’m not sure about that” and “That’s pretty neat” provide valuable information when trying to evaluate an idea or product. They indicate the person doesn’t care, which is good to know.

  • The mistake is trying to “up your game” and convince an indifferent person. This risks getting false positives rather than the truth.

  • With an indifferent response, ask follow up questions to understand why they don’t care - is the problem not important, customer mismatch, skeptical from too many pitches, etc.

  • Prematurely zooming into details before understanding if the problem is genuinely important can lead down a misleading path of false validation.

  • Start conversations more generally to determine if the problem area is truly a priority, rather than assuming and zooming in on a specific issue.

  • Only zoom in immediately if certain the problem is a must-solve priority people will pay for, like marketing issues for small businesses. Otherwise begin more broadly.

The key lessons are to value lukewarm responses as honest feedback, avoid false validation by understanding indifference first before details, and start conversations broadly when problem importance is unclear.

Here are the key points:

  • The person mentions that their blog audience has dropped significantly since Google Reader shut down, taking with it about half their followers. They also say their interest in writing has shifted to a book project, so they haven’t posted blog content in months.

  • One topic - Google Reader and audience size - relates to marketing. This provides an anchor point to figure out if the person is a potential customer or just complaining.

  • The conversational strategy is to directly ask about the Google Reader issue to get more information, while remaining skeptical of responses since the person didn’t seem very motivated or knowledgeable about solutions.

  • Cost/value questions are suggested to determine how seriously the person takes blogging - is it a hobby or business? Do they spend money/make money from it? This helps assess if the problem is important enough to them.

  • Sometimes conversations focus too much on minor problems without addressing major risks or constraints. It’s important to identify the “elephant in the room” issues as well.

So in summary, the key is to anchor on related topics like marketing/audience, remain skeptical, ask cost/value questions, and look for any major problems or constraints being overlooked. This helps determine the true importance and risk level of the issues discussed.

  • Building a product with technical risk means you need to start developing and testing the product earlier than if it was just market risk. Conversations alone won’t prove the business model as much as with pure market risk.

  • It’s important to prepare a list of the 3 most important questions you want to learn from each type of customer or partner. Having these prepared questions ensures you ask meaningful questions without bias and don’t get stuck on trivial topics.

  • Early customer conversations work better as casual chats rather than formal meetings. Meeting structure can be avoided by keeping conversations quick and lightweight, like at industry events. This allows more conversations in less time.

  • Over-reliance on formal meetings can cause us to miss good learning opportunities from casual interactions. The goal is to learn from customers, not set up meetings for their own sake.

  • Early conversations should feel pleasant for both parties, not like the customer is doing a favor. If it feels too formal, the questions may be biased.

  • Early conversations are very quick, 5-15 minutes typically. Longer conversations indicate deeper industry learning needed but people enjoy sharing stories. Formal meetings are often longer due to logistics rather than learning goals.

  • Once you have a developed product, meetings should take on a more sales-oriented format with clear blocks of 30+ minutes to properly showcase the product.

  • Early casual conversations without revealing the full product idea can be faster and avoid biases. Ask open-ended questions to learn about customer problems and needs.

  • Meeting success is determined by whether you get a clear commitment or advancement to the next step, not by compliments.

  • Commonly accepted commitment currencies include time (e.g. follow up meetings), reputation (introductions), and money (deposits, pre-orders).

  • Meetings that end with just compliments or no next steps are considered failures as they don’t provide useful feedback or move things forward.

  • The more commitment someone provides in terms of time, reputation or money, the more seriously you can take their positive feedback. It indicates they have real interest.

  • The goal is to get past “zombie leads” who string you along with flattery but never commit, by pushing for clear next steps or commitments at the end of meetings.

  • The meeting started well but ended inconclusively with a vague promise to introduce the person to others at some unspecified future point when they are “ready”. This is not very useful or actionable.

  • To improve it, the person should ask for more specific details on what “ready” means, who the introductions will be to, and why the introductions can’t happen now. Getting more concrete commitments is better than vague promises.

  • Another option is to push for the next steps after the meeting rather than leaving it open-ended. Clarifying the follow up plan makes the meeting more productive.

  • In summary, early-stage meetings and sales are more about learning than immediate revenue. The goal should be to advance the conversation in small concrete ways at each interaction, rather than ending with vague non-commitments.

  • Cold calls and outreach have a high rejection rate, but you only need one positive conversation to start getting introductions and building connections.

  • Stay open to serendipitous conversations that come up naturally, like overhearing someone mention a relevant topic at a social event.

  • Find excuses to start conversations instead of explicitly pitching your idea right away. Ask questions to learn about people’s problems.

  • Immerse yourself in industries and communities by attending and organizing events, speaking, teaching, blogging, etc. to both learn and market yourself.

  • Warm intros through mutual connections make conversations much easier. Tap your extended network by asking if people know others who could help. Everyone is usually 6 degrees of separation from potential contacts.

  • Consider bringing on advisors from relevant industries who can provide introductions on a regular basis in exchange for small equity stakes.

The overall message is that customer development is about getting relevant conversations, not closed deals. There are many creative ways to initiate conversations and build introductions without direct cold outreach.

  • Advisory boards can be built by talking to potential customers and getting connected to their industry contacts. Professors are also a good source of introductions through their networks.

  • Investors have extensive networks and can connect a founder to important industry players.

  • Founders should reach out to past contacts who offered help and ask them to make introductions they promised, even if it was a while ago.

  • When asking for meetings, frame it around a vision or problem you are solving without pitching the idea. Show how the person can help by highlighting their expertise.

  • Meetings are better done in person rather than calling, as you build better relationships and understanding.

  • Go into discussions looking to find advisors rather than customers. Position yourself as gathering knowledge and advice rather than selling.

The key idea is to leverage networks, show how others can help without pitching, and focus on relationship-building rather than immediate sales to build a strong advisory network over time. Meeting in person is preferable to calls for these initial conversations.

  • It is better to change your circumstances to require less willpower rather than just powering through difficult situations.

  • Changing the context of a meeting from “sales” to “looking for advisors” changes the mindset and puts you in control of the meeting by framing it as evaluating them.

  • For early customer conversations, keep talking to people until you stop learning new information, which could take 3-5 conversations if your customer segment is focused. More than 10 conversations with inconsistent results means your segment is too broad.

  • It’s important to choose a specific customer segment to focus on in the beginning rather than trying to serve everyone. This avoids getting overwhelmed and allows you to get clear feedback to guide your product development.

  • Starting too broadly with a segment like “advertisers” or “sales organizations” results in inconsistent feedback because there is huge diversity within those broad categories. It’s better to narrow the segment further to focus on developing for a specific customer type.

  • Customer slicing involves drilling down into increasingly specific customer segments or subgroups to find the most targetable and useful segment to focus on. You ask questions like who wants the product most within a group and why.

  • This helps you identify specific demographic groups and their motivations. You then look at where to find these groups based on their existing behaviors.

  • Choosing a who-where pair of a specific customer segment and where to find them makes conversations much more targeted and useful compared to talking to everyone.

  • It’s important not to talk to the wrong people by having too broad a segment, missing some customer segments, or overlooking stakeholders in business purchasing processes.

  • To get the most value from customer conversations, you need the right process including taking good notes and sharing what you learn with the whole team promptly after meetings to avoid bottlenecks. Just going to meetings and hoping for the best won’t maximize insights.

The passage discusses ways to avoid learning bottlenecks when talking to customers and learning from them. It warns against going to customer meetings alone without taking notes or reviewing them with the team afterward. This leads to the founder becoming the sole repository of customer knowledge instead of disseminating it to the team.

Symptoms of a learning bottleneck include claiming to be too busy coding to talk to people or justify decisions by saying “the customers told me so.”

To avoid bottlenecks, the passage recommends three key steps:

  1. Prepping - Knowing your key questions beforehand, researching the customer/company, and prepping with the whole team.

  2. Reviewing - Going over notes with the team after to share learnings and discuss how conversations can be improved.

  3. Taking good notes - Capturing quotes and using symbols to denote things like customer pain points, goals, obstacles and emotions. This makes the information easier to recall and share later.

The founder should attend meetings but not go alone. The whole team needs exposure to customers, especially those making product decisions. Outsourcing customer learning is not recommended. Proper note-taking and reviewing is important to avoid bottlenecks and keep the entire team informed and aligned.

  • Taking customer notes is important but they should be easy to retrieve, sort, combine with other notes, and permanent. Notebooks are not ideal as notes get lost.

  • Index cards, spreadsheets, and Evernote are good options for note-taking. Cards allow easy sorting.

  • Note important details like names, competitors mentioned, follow up tasks.

  • Talking to customers should have a purpose of answering key questions or gaining insights, not just going through motions.

  • Before conversations, define learning goals and best guesses. After, review notes as a team and update plans.

  • The process should be light-weight and move quickly - spend hours prepping, not weeks. Get feedback and keep improving faster, not perfect.

  • People are forgiving of startup mistakes if they’re trying to improve life. Thank supporters. It’s okay to screw up sometimes as long as you learn from it.

The summary hits the main recommendations around effective customer note-taking, having a focused process for conversations, keeping it light-weight and moving fast, and that it’s okay to make mistakes as long as you learn from them.

The passage describes how “hacking” something means cutting through unnecessary processes to get to the result more directly. It tells a story of Alexander the Great cutting the Gordian Knot in half with his sword instead of untying it, resulting in the knot being undone and him achieving his goal faster.

It then relates this to entrepreneurs getting bogged down in lengthy processes and validation steps rather than taking quicker action. The example given is of a personal trainer who was advised to target police officers as clients since he could work with them on-site, eliminating his commute time. When his advisors started providing lengthy suggestions for validation steps, he simply called the police directly and booked a trial session.

The moral of the story is that while processes can be useful, sometimes the best approach is to “hack” through a problem directly by taking quick action, like Alexander cutting the knot or the trainer making a direct phone call, rather than getting stuck over-analyzing various validation and prep steps. Direct action can help achieve the goal or solution faster.

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About Matheus Puppe