This is a comprehensive summary of the book The Mom Test by Rob Fitzpatrick (part of the business book summaries collection). Covering the key ideas and proposing practical ways for achieving what’s mentioned in the text. Written by book fanatic and online librarian Ivaylo Durmonski.
Printable: Download the interactive sheet for taking notes.
The Book In Three Or More Sentences:
This book is a practical how-to guide that allows you to properly 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 startup 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. After all, they don’t want to hurt your feelings – especially your mom. Instead of talking about the concept you want to turn into a business, ask people about their lives and about their experiences. Ask questions related to the problem you are trying to solve with your idea. This way you’ll gather enough data, iterate on your business venture and create a meaningful product people will actually want to buy.
- Instead of promoting your new start-up idea, have genuine conversations with people and gather feedback from them.
- Don’t try to serve everyone, especially when you’re first starting your entrepreneurial venture. Focus on one small segment.
- Collect feedback from your current clients on a regular basis. Ask them for help and don’t take it personally when there are negative comments about the way you currently do business.
6 Key Lessons from The Mom Test:
- Lesson #1: Don’t Ask Anyone Whether Your Business Is A Good Idea – a.k.a The Mom Test
- Lesson #2: Transition From Bad Conversation To Good Ones By Avoiding Fluff
- Lesson #3: Stop Seeking Approval
- Lesson #4: Love Bad News
- Lesson #5: Ask Your Potential Customers For Help
- Lesson #6: Find Your Specific Customer Segment (Customer Slicing)
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 is it really a good idea?
Collecting false positives is something you don’t want as an entrepreneur. If you’re serious about starting a business, you need to understand the real problems of the people you’re targeting before devoting a couple of years to something that might potentially sink.
So, the question here is, “How?”
The solution here is simple: Have productive and honest conversations with people. That’s why so many people are probably ignoring this tip. It doesn’t seem like something that will work. It’s too generic.
But it does.
By having genuine conversations with people, you make them feel comfortable, they open up, and you get to hear what they really think about the problem and your potential solution.
Here are the 3 simple rules that the author calls The Mom Test:
The 3 rules of 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.
The goal is to understand how people think about a potential problem. It’s the reverse of what people are usually doing – asking about whether their idea is good.
By following The Mom Test, you are basically interviewing prospects. Their answers help you modify your idea based on the gathered insights. Plus, you avoid forcing people to compliment your half-baked and usually not-going-to-work idea.
“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.” Rob Fitzpatrick
Lesson #2: Transition From Bad Conversation To Good Ones By Avoiding Fluff
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 potential clients or existing customers, you need a fluff filter. A way to distill information. Or in other words, figure out what’s important and what’s not.
A lot of times, people are simply complaining. They are not looking for solutions. If this is the case, you need to realize this quickly and 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 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 available solutions, you might have found something worth pursuing.
“The world’s most deadly fluff is: “I would definitely buy that.” Rob Fitzpatrick
Lesson #3: Stop Seeking Approval
Seeking approval is the worst thing you can do. Compliment-seekers are usually selfish narcissists 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.
That’s one of the worst traits of new founders or wannabe entrepreneurs. They are so convinced that their idea will work, that they don’t really listen to what others are saying. Simply switching from talking to listening and abandoning your biases can save you a lot of time and money.
“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).” Rob Fitzpatrick
Lesson #4: Love Bad News
It’s bittering when you realize that your idea sucks. (You take it personally and you start to think that you suck.) 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.
Receiving something like, “oh, I would totally pay for that!” is the most misleading thing you can get from someone.
Get people to actually pay, not just say that they will pay.
Validating and pursuing the right idea usually happens after receiving a lot of “bad news.” You take the rejections, use them, and you build something others will actually pay for.
Plainly, don’t avoid rejection. Look forward to it.
“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.” Rob Fitzpatrick
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 improve 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 conversations without all the formality and BS. So, when you’re looking for feedback from someone for your new idea, 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: Actually ask for help – what do they really think about a possible solution and when you can meet.
By following the above structure you can set the right expectations and avoid being countered by dishonest comments.
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 on your website, for example.
The main goal is to get someone to share their real experience and their personal views.
Lesson #6: Find Your Specific Customer Segment (Customer Slicing)
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 of the opposite: removing features.
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 out online in health forums or Facebook? Simply 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/need and is it going to be rewarding to build a business around the problem. Also, by getting specific, it becomes easier to find this particular 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.”
“Before we can serve everyone, we have to serve someone.” Rob Fitzpatrick
- 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. Don’t be a generalist. Become specialist.
- Create a list of 3 big questions: 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 that 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 – and focus on something else.
- 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. This is the easiest way to (mom) test your idea.
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, about their problems. Based on the insights, you can figure out whether your idea is good or bad.
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 what is a good approach to validate your idea as well as what is a bad approach. Simply put, this book will save you a lot of money by not working on the wrong thing.
The title comes from what founders usually do: They ask their mom, or someone else close to them, for feedback. But since this person doesn’t want to hurt their feelings, they say, “Of course, this will surely work!” But it later becomes apparent that it won’t.
Your idea doesn’t need false reinforcements. It needs critical feedback and a genuine understanding of the problem from real users.
The main thing I have 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. Learn to listen more.
“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.” Rob Fitzpatrick
“In early stage sales, the real goal is learning. Revenue is just a side-effect.” Rob Fitzpatrick
“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.” Rob Fitzpatrick
“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.” Rob Fitzpatrick
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