The Mom Test

written by Rob Fitzpatrick

|finished reading on May 19th, 2020

I've been building a little startup for the past few months. Before writing any code we took a bit of time to "validate" our idea with customers. At that time a friend of mine recommended The Mom Test. I didn't get around to reading it until well into the development process.

I wish I would have read it earlier.

The book is about customer conversations. They are hard. You'd think having a simple conversation wouldn't be too difficult. Well, you'd be wrong. There are many different factors that make them challenging. Rob does a great job going through those reasons. He gives plenty of actionable tips for making the conversations more successful.

So what does a bad conversation look like? We come out of them with junk data. We ask questions where we bias the person into telling us what we want to hear. Or giving compliments. They person on the receiving end of the questions does their best to protect our egos. These conversations are useless. Even worse, they convince us we are on the right path.

The saddest thing that can happen to a startup is for nobody to care when it disappears.

It's our responsibility to find the truth from our customers. We do this by asking good questions. The types of questions that even your mother couldn't lie to you about (see: The Mom Test). Our questions should lead to facts about the customers' lives and world views.

Three rules for better conversations

There are three rules we can follow to improve the conversations.

1. Talk about their life, not your idea

The easiest way to start improving is to avoid talking about your product. This is a customer conversation after all. It's not about you.

2. Ask about specifics in the past

We want to learn about real pain. Some problems aren't even worth solving. If a customer has never even tried to solve their problem, it might not be worth solving. Anything involving the future is an over-optimistic lie. Focus on the past.

3. Talk less, listen more

A lot of us think we are great listeners. Make sure when you're listening you aren't actually thinking about what to say next. Take notes and soak in the wisdom of the customer.

It's easy for us to get bad data and we want to avoid that. Bad data includes compliments, fluff, and ideas. Compliments are the fool's gold of customer conversations. Shiny, distracting. Worthless. Fluff includes things like generic statements, hypotheticals, or anything with a focus on the future.

Ideas are cheap. Entrepreneurs drown in ideas. I'll be writing about that more at a later date.

Aside from bad data, we want to make sure we are targeting a clear customer segment. Making a mediocre product for many people isn't quite the same as making an incredible product for one. The more we understand who we are building for, the better we build. And the more specific we are about those personas, the better we can understand them.

The Mom Test was a great read. It was quick and packed with wisdom. If you're interested in building a startup, I recommend you read it ASAP. Don't wait like I did. You won't regret it!

Now go forth and build talk to your customers!

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