The Mom Test by Rob Fitzpatrick [Book Summary]

Publication Date | April 01, 2019
Last Updated | June 27, 2020

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Author: Rob Fitzpatrick. Entrepreneur 10+ Years. Ran bootstrapped and VC companies (including YC backed). Programmer turned to Sales.

Recommendation: It's a concise book full of useful information. Highly recommend reading and reviewing customer questions you normally ask. Very easy for entrepreneur to fall into bad habits (pitch company mode, pointed questions).

Chapter 0: Introduction

  • Most founders either use overly opinionated questions - "do you think it's a good idea?" results in incorrect understanding / answers about market or ask overly broad questions that lead to no answers.
  • Asking the right questions now is critical to avoid product/market problems.

Chapter 1: The Mom Test

  • Mom Test - Asking your mother if she thinks your product is a good idea will always lead to "yes". Unfortunately, your mother is not a real market.
  • Good Mom Test Questions

    • Ask about what your Mom is doing; not telling her what your app can do.
    • Listen more, talk less.
    • Have a conversation about how they do something (for instance, look up trip details). Don't lead with a pointed question akin to "do you like my app".
    • Ask about concrete events that happened. Not your future scenario where your app magically solves all her problems (would you use my app that solves all your problems?, duh).
    • Use answers from how they search information to identifying products or marketing channels.
    • Dig into unexpected answers — example: Mom look up apps from ads in Sunday Paper (something a techy person would never do or know). That's a marketing channel!
  • The Mom Test:

    • Ask about their life instead of you talking about your idea.
    • Ask specifics from the past (how did you look up X, how market actually works). Instead of opinions about the future (how you think the market works, which is often wrong)
    • Talk less and listen more.
  • Mom Test Quiz Questions
Question Good or Bad? Why?
Do you think it's a good idea? Bad Too opinionated. Only market knows this answer.
Would you buy a product which did X? Bad People say yes, but don't pay.
How much would you pay for X? Bad If it was important enough, they'd already be paying for a fix. Most likely not important. Question feels rigorous but fails in real-life.
Why do you bother? Good Goes from perceived problem (what you think) to real issue.
Talk Me Through Last Time That Happened Good Concrete
What Else Have You Tried? Good Tells you if problem is important enough they want a fix they would pay for.
Would you pay X for a product that did Y Bad Based in fantasy land with your future app (the one that solves everything and markets itself)
How Are You Dealing With It Now Good Concrete, clear evidence of real problem or not.

Chapter 2: Avoiding Bad Data

  • Ignore Compliments

    • Most people don't want to insult. Will try to reflect / get rid of you by these methods.
    • "That's cool, love it". Words used to end meetings and not intend to pay.
    • Avoidable by not pitching about your product. Instead ask about customer's workflow. Emphasis on listening more, talk less.
    • Listening tells you their workflow. Goal: Customers should be talking about their workflow, not you about your app.
  • Ignore Fluff

    • Warning signs you are in a fluff conversation if you hear these words: usually, always, never; would, will, might, could.
    • "I would definitely buy that!", "I could see myself using that!"
    • Avoid fluff by asking direct questions — "When's the last time that happened?"
  • Ignore Ideas

    • Your goal is to execute and focus on single, scalable idea.
    • If you hear an idea that a customer is excited about — ask why? Dig into workflow about why idea makes them happy. Likely find better solution instead.
    • Example: Customer wanted analytics dashboard.

      • Six months later: Startup built analytics dashboard.
      • Problem: Clients wanted dashboard to print to excel and send to one specific client.
      • Answer: Didn't need / use analytics dashboard, simple script would have sufficed.
    • Ask Customer : Why do you want this feature? Listen!
    • Listen! (Reoccurring theme. Many founders not good at listening).
  • Tactical

    • Avoid pitching.
    • Pitching means your mouth is open and your ears are closed. Emphasis on listening.
    • Avoid ego.
    • If you tell someone about your passion project, people afraid to hurt your feelings, won't tell you it's bad. Founders cannot help but be passionate about his/her projects.

Chapter 3: Asking Important Questions

  • Do not be afraid of truth that would destroy your company. Better to know now, pivot / shape your product than deal with catastrophe later.
  • Learn to Love Bad News

    • Better to know product is failing after spending 5k than spending 50k.
  • Do Not Zoom

    • Avoid zooming to conclusions.
    • Pointed question — You: "what do you like about fitness apps", Customer : Generic reply. You zoom to conclusion "this is the killer feature for fitness apps". Reality: Person doesn't care about fitness. You asked a question about fitness, so they responded about fitness.
    • Figure out if there is a relevant paying market to the problem.
    • Yes, there may be a problem, but one that no one cares enough to pay. Aka, a personal projects like a blog.
  • Elephant [In the Room] Questions

    • Would you pay 5 dollars for an app that got you 50 dollars?
    • Who would say no? The hard part is building the app that gives customer 50 dollars.
    • Example: Would you use a platform that gets you 20% more leads? Of course. Can you / your team actually build that platform?
  • Risk

    • Product Risk - Can you actually build it?
    • Market Risk - Do customers actually want what you built?
  • Prepare 3 Questions to Ask

    • Have your list of 3 questions that you can use to figure risk and learn from your customer. Always have your three questions, but keep on evolving them. Have them already prepared!

Chapter 4: Keeping It Casual

  • Don't make a formal meeting. Find ways to casually meet up with out having some formal calendar block / meeting time.

Chapter 5: Commitment and Advancement

  • Push for advancement up each sales pipeline. Had meeting with a client? What's next? Is there a clear advancement to a customer will pay scenario?

    • Meetings that "went well" (no action items)? —> FAILURE
    • Meetings where someone bought your product? —> SUCCESS
    • Meetings where someone is introducing you to more decision makers? —> SUCCESS
    • Meetings when someone will get back to you? —> FAILURE.
    • Meetings are binary. Either FAILURE or SUCCESS.
    • Lateral movements —> FAILURE.
  • Crazy Customers

    • Initial customers are crazy (in a good way) evangelists. (term - earlyvangelists) Most customers aren't willing to try a startup.
    • Keep these customers close. They're the ones you most likely learn from.

Chapter 6: Finding Conversations

  • Cold conversations/call are hard. Most likely will be your first couple of meetings. Goal is to do those well to get warm intros for contact to give you warm intros elsewhere.
  • Seize advantage to talk to customers, don't treat it like a formal meeting (and then it won't be). If you have to ask for a calendar block —> too formal.
  • Immerse yourself where they are. If they hang out at Speakers Lounge, you should be there!
  • Bringing them to you:

    • Organize meetups
    • Speaking and teaching
    • Industry Blogging
    • Get Clever
    • Organize meetups like "knowledge exchange" between people you want to meet. Leverage experts desire to meet other experts. Bring experts together. By being the person who organized it, you are now in the expert circle.
  • Getting warm intros:

    • Use your network to get you intros. Advisors, friends, etc.
    • University Professors know a lot of people
  • Framing the Meeting

    • pg. 85. Hard to summarize this, better to just read that section.
  • Try to meet in person versus call / video call. Less awkward.
  • Treat these meetings like advisors. Goal is not to get them to buy product, but for advice and to learn. Makes you less needy.
  • Do as many meetings until you stop learning something useful. (Assuming you are doing meetings correctly).

Chapter 7: Choosing Your Customers

  • Define a customer slice. Make sure it's a true customer slice (not a broad market). IE. busy professionals 28-35 is NOT a customer slice. Too broad! Finance professionals in London training for a marathon —> customer slice.
  • Don't talk to the wrong customer slice when making product decisions

Chapter 8: Running the Process

  • Don't become the bottleneck of knowledge. If you are the only one going to the customer meeting, you are the bottleneck.
  • Other team members should be going to the meeting to divide knowledge share and to make sure you both heard the right thing from customer. If only one person goes —> high failure of market understanding and knowledge sharing.
  • Be prepared for customer meetings. Know who the customer is. Don't spend too long either. Goal is to build a product, not talk to people all day.
  • Take good notes that can be disseminated to the team.
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