The Mom Test
by Rob Fitzpatrick
Short and sweet, the core few concepts in this book resonated with me and have clear applications in sales. The title and main conceit is a touch misogynistic, sure, but the author isn’t the first to recommend speaking to someone unfamiliar with a topic to gauge quality.
A recent New York Magazine article about the late “anarchic anthropologist” David Graeber, notes the use of his mother Ruth as an influence on his work:
Ruth herself never went to college. She was a constant reader, however, and years later, she was the audience her son kept in mind when he wrote. Graeber, Leve recalls, used to say that “if he understood something, he should be able to write it in a way that would be accessible and interesting to her.”
My main takeaway is that it’s easy to lead people to say the things they think you want to hear.
The Mom Test
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
It’s easy to get someone emotional about a problem if you lead them there.
Good questions about them:
- “Who else should I talk to?”
- “Where does the money come from?”
Avoiding bad data
- Deflect compliments
- Anchor fluff - “tell me about the last time this happened”
- Dig beneath opinions, ideas, requests, and emotions
“Venture capitalists are described as professional judges of the future” – I like that.
Sometimes people will discuss a problem that irritates them but they would have no intent of buying a solution to that problem.
that person is a complainer, not a customer. They’re stuck in the la-la-land of imagining they’re the sort of person who finds clever ways to solve the petty annoyances of their day.
It’s recommended to cut off pitches as early as possible:
Being pitchy is the dark side of the “seeking approval” coin. Instead of inviting compliments by being vulnerable, you’re demanding them by being annoying. It’s when you hold someone hostage and won’t let them leave until they’ve said they like your idea. Normally, compliments are well-intentioned. In this case, they’re just trying to get you out of their office. “Won’t-take-no-for-an-answer” is generally a good quality for a founder to have. But when it creeps into a conversation that’s meant to be about learning, it works against you.
Asking important questions
Avoid prematurely zooming – that is getting into the weeds hearing what you want to hear.
When you fall into a premature zoom, you can waste a ton of time figuring out the minutia of a trivial problem. Even if you learn everything there is to know about that particular problem, you still haven’t got a business
If you ask When he talked to farmers, he asked questions like, “Would you switch trackers if something cheaper and more effective was available?” That’s the same as asking someone whether they would like more money.
Commitment and advancement
It’s on you to get a commitment. This can take many forms:
- Clear next meeting with known goals
- Sitting down to give feedback on wireframes
- Using a trial of the product for a non-trivial period
Reputation risk commitments:
- Intro to peers or team
- Intro to a decision maker (boss, spouse, lawyer)
- Giving a public testimonial or case study
- Letter of intent (non-legal but gentlemanly agreement to purchase)
Good rule of thumb:
It’s not a real lead until you’ve given them a concrete chance to reject you.
The author discusses some strategies to talk to potential customers about your idea.
Unless your plan is to sell your app via cold calls, the rejection rate is irrelevant.
Strategy for conversations is summarised as Vision / Framing / Weakness / Pedestal / Ask
Don’t mention your product, just your vision:
You’re an entrepreneur trying to solve horrible problem X, usher in wonderful vision Y, or fix stagnant industry Z.
mention what stage you’re at and, if it’s true, that you don’t have anything to sell.
give them a chance to help by mentioning the specific problem that you’re looking for answers on. This will also clarify that you’re not a time waster.
Put them on a pedestal:
show how much they, in particular, can help. Explicitly ask for help.
In terms of mindset, don’t go into these discussions looking for customers. It creates a needy vibe and forfeits the position of power. Instead, go in search of industry and customer advisors. You are just trying to find helpful, knowledgable people who are excited about your idea.
Running the process
When all the customer learning is stuck in someone’s head instead of being disseminated to the rest of the team, you’ve got a learning bottleneck. Avoid creating (or being) the bottleneck. To do that, the learning must be shared with the entire founding team promptly and faithfully, which depends on good notes plus a bit of pre- and post-meeting work.
You’re never going to be perfect, but it always helps to be better.