Actionable Book Summary: The Mom Test by Rob Fitzpatrick
The Book In Three Or More Sentences:
This book is a practical how-to guide on how to evaluate your current or next business idea. Rob Fitzpatrick, the author, gives us all the tools we need to talk to customers, navigate through the noise, and learn what people really want. The Mom Test will basically teach you how to ask good questions so you can prevent people from lying, and throwing fake compliments about your idea. So, if you’ve fallen in love with a new business idea and you want to figure out if it has legs before quitting your job this book is for you.
The Core Idea:
You shouldn’t ask people whether your business idea is good. It’s a dumb question because people will lie to you. Instead of talking about your concept, ask people about their lives and about their problems. This way you’ll gather enough data, iterate on your business venture and create a product people will actually want to buy.
Lesson #1: Don’t Ask Anyone Whether Your Business Is A Good Idea – a.k.a The Mom Test
The main point the author is trying to make in the book is simple: People will always say that your idea is good because they don’t want to hurt your feelings. This is especially true if you ask your mom.
By asking someone, “Hey, I have an idea for starting a business about X. What do you think?” You’re basically begging them to say yes. That’s why in 99% of the cases, you’ll hear, “That’s a great idea. Go for it!”
But collecting false positives is something you don’t want as an entrepreneur. If you’re serious about your business you need to understand the real problems of the people you’re targeting before devoting a couple of years into something that might potentially sink.
So, the question here is, “How?”
By having a useful conversation.
Here are the 3 simple rules that the author calls The Mom Test:
The Mom Test:
Talk about their life instead of your idea.
Ask about specifics in the past instead of generics or opinions about the future.
Talk less and listen more.
It’s called The Mom Test because it leads to questions that even your mom can’t lie to you about. When you do it right, they won’t even know you have an idea.”
Lesson #2: Transition From Bad Conversation To Good a One By Avoiding Fluff
The world’s most deadly fluff is: “I would definitely buy that.”
If you rely on a single “I will definitely buy that” claim to start working on a specific product you’re surely entering a trap.
When talking to customers, you need a fluff-filter. A way to distill the important information and get some specifics so you can bring out the information you’re looking for. That’s, whether or not you should start working on your current idea.
In a lot of occasions, people are simply complaining, they are not looking for solutions. If this is the case, you need to realize this quickly an move on with your life – talk to someone else or abandon that specific idea.
The following questions will help you when talking to people about their problems:
“Tell me more about your problem?”
“What makes this so awful for you specifically? ”
“Talk me through the last time that happened.”
“Have you tried doing something to fix this?”
“What else have you tried?”
“How are you dealing with it now?”
“What will be the perfect solution for you?”
“Talk me through the last time that happened.”
If people don’t care enough to try solving their problem, this means that they aren’t going to care about your solution. These people are complainers, not potential customers. If there is a problem though, and they don’t like the current solutions, you might have found something.
Lesson #3: Stop Seeking Approval
Seeking for approval is the worst thing you can do. Compliment-seekers are usually selfish narcissist who don’t really care about others. They simply want fame and money.
However, your product can’t succeed if you don’t care about others. After all, your product should solve other people’s problems, not yours.
Fishing for compliments when talking to others about your idea usually looks like this:
“I’m thinking of starting a business… so, do you think it will work?”
“I had an awesome idea for an app — do you like it?”
“So here’s that top-secret project I quit my job for… what do you think?”
“No no, I don’t think you get it…”
“Yes, but it also does this!”
Anyone will say “Yes” to your idea if you talk non-stop about it. But usually, the truth is on the other side of the coin. Instead of talking all the time, you can learn more useful information if you simply talk less and listen to what the other person is saying. Like, really listen and take notes along the way.
You can’t learn anything useful unless you’re willing to spend a few minutes shutting up (even if you have something really smart to say).”
Lesson #4: Love Bad News
If you hustle to gether $50k to start your business and spend all $50k on your first idea only to see it fail, that’s bad. On the other hand, if you have $50k and spend $5k to learn you’re running down a dead end, that’s awesome. You can use the rest to find a viable path to your goal.”
It’s bittering when you realize that your idea sucks. Especially when you’re about to start. At least that’s what people think. But it’s quite the opposite.
If you have an exciting idea for a brand new product and you go talk to a bunch of potential customers who don’t actually care about it, then that’s a great result. You just saved yourself a couple of months, even years, and probably a huge investment.
People avoid asking hard questions because they’re afraid of the answer. But realizing that your idea sucks right from the start is the best thing that can happen to you.
Remember, when you’re talking to people about your idea what you really want is to learn the truth.
Lesson #5: Ask Your Potential Customers For Help
There’s nothing wrong with asking for help – in fact, people who succeed are those who are able to neglect their ego, show weakness and give people a chance to help them frame their idea. You just need to set the right mood.
When you want to ask someone for advice, avoid questions like, “Can I interview you?” Or, “Do you have time for a quick coffee?”
You’re looking for honest, private conversation without all the formality and BS. So, when you’re looking for feedback you want to focus on the following 5 key elements:
Vision: Don’t mention your idea. You just say that you’re looking for ways to solve problem X.
Framing: Explain what stage in solving the problem you’re at.
Weakness: Mention your specific problem and give the other person a chance to help you by showing weakness.
Pedestal: Make a compliment by explaining how much they, in particular, can help you.
Ask: Ask for help.
By following the above structure you can set the right expectations and avoid being countered by dishonest comment or badly rejected.
Here’s the above framework in practice directly from the book:
I’m trying to make desk & office rental less of a pain for new businesses (vision). We’re just starting out and don’t have anything to sell, but want to make sure we’re building something that actually helps (framing).
I’ve only ever come at it from the tenant’s side and I’m having a hard time understanding how it all works from the landlord’s perspective (weakness). You’ve been renting out desks for a while and could really help me cut through the fog (pedestal).
Do you have time in the next couple weeks to meet up for a chat? (ask)
This can be reworked and used also for your website, for example.
Lesson #6: Find Your Specific Customer Segment (Customer Slicing)
Before we can serve everyone, we have to serve someone.
If your customer segment is too broad and if you’re saying “yes” to every potential request you’re spreading yourself too thin. You don’t need more features, you need more feature’s removal.
Or in other words, you can’t serve everyone. Especially in the beginning. You need to first figure out the group of people who are most likely to buy your product. Once you know, think about where you can find them. At health food stores? Hanging online on health forums or Facebook? Search.
Getting specific about who your ideal customers are is allowing you to filter out all the noise and properly schedule your time. You will know exactly who to talk to, what to implement, and how to really solve the problem these guys are experiencing.
This is called Customer Slicing. You’re basically drilling down into a specific group of people to find what they really want and is it going to be rewarding to build a business around them. Also, by getting specific, it becomes easier to find these group of people. For instance, it’s a lot easier to find where vegans reside instead of searching for the generic “for people who want to be healthy.”
What’s wrong with your idea? What are you planning to build? Be specific, concrete. But before you start, ask yourself the following: “What’s wrong with your idea?” Before you start doing something, anything, you first need to understand how it might go wrong.
Tighten your segment: You can’t build a product for everyone. You need to get specific. Narrow down your options. Find out a group of people you want to serve and focus on them.
Create a list of 3 big Q’s: You need to be prepared before meeting potential customers. Figure out 3 big questions and write them down. It will be a lot easier to steer the conversation in the right direction if you’ve created guidelines beforehand.
Critical questions: Every time you talk to someone, you should be asking a question which has the potential to completely destroy your currently imagined business. This way you can prepare yourself for the worst or simply ditch your current idea.
Create a landing page: Before you quit your job and start your desired business, you can create a simple landing page. Describe what you’re going to do, your value proposition, and collect emails. But don’t just stop there. Once you gain leads, reach out to those users and talk to them.
Commentary And My Personal Takeaway
As the author mentions in the book, “You shouldn’t ask anyone if your business is a good idea. It’s a bad question and everyone will lie to you at least a little.” Instead, you need to talk about their life instead of your idea.
The Mom Test is an amazingly simple, down-to-earth guide on how to talk to your customers before building your “thing.” It’s full of specific examples of good and bad approaches, and reasons why a certain approach is good or bad. It’s probably the best book about validating startup ideas.
The main thing I learned from The Mom Test – though it’s really hard to point only one – is this: Ask people for their honest advice without mentioning your idea and don’t talk while they’re speaking.
Stop seeking approval! As we’ve seen, compliments are dangerous and sneaky. So if we can nip them in the bud before they bloom, so much the better.”
In early stage sales, the real goal is learning. Revenue is just a side-effect.”
It boils down to this: you aren’t allowed to tell them what their problem is, and in return, they aren’t allowed to tell you what to build. They own the problem, you own the solution.”
First customers are crazy. Crazy in a good way. They really, really want what you’re making. They want it so badly that they’re willing to be the crazy person who tries it first. Keep an eye out for the people who get emotional about what you’re doing.”