The Mom Test by Ryan Fitzpatrick

The Mom Test is a quick, practical guide that will save you time, money, and heartbreak.

The Mom Test by Ryan Fitzpatrick

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Chapter 1 The Mom Test

A useful conversation

The measure of usefulness of an early customer conversation is whether it gives us concrete facts about our customers' lives and world-views. These facts help us improve our business.

The Mom Test:

  1. Talk about their life instead of your idea
  2. Ask about specifics in the past instead of generics or opinions about the future
  3. Talk less and listen more

The question to ask are about your customers' lives: their problems, cares, constrainers, and goals

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 and you own the solution.

Chapter 2 Avoiding Bad Data

There are 3 types of bad data:

  1. Compliments
  2. Fluff (generics, hypothetical's, and the future)
  3. ideas

Ignoring compliments should be easy but it's not. We crave validation and are often tricked into registering compliments as reliable data instead of vacuous fibs.

Compliments are the fool's gold of customer learning: shiny, distracting and worthless.

Fluff comes in 3 shapes:

  1. Generic claims (I usually, I always, I never)
  2. Future-tense Promises (I would, I will)
  3. Hypothetical maybes (I might, I could)

While using generics, people describe themselves as who they want to be, not who they actually are. You need to get specific to bring out the edge cases.

You just need to reject their generic claims, incidental complaints, and fluffy promises. Instead, anchor them on the life they already lead and the actions they're already taking.

When you hear a request, it's your job to understand the motivations which led to it. You do that by digging around the question to find the root cause.

Just like feature requests, any powerful emotion is worth exploring.

Ideas and feature requests should be understood, not obeyed.

To deal with the Pathos Problem, keep the conversation focused on the other person and ask about specific concrete cases and examples.

If you've mentioned your idea, people will try to protect your feelings.

Anyone will say your idea is great if you're annoying enough about it.

The more you're talking, the worse you're doing.

Chapter 3 Asking Important Questions

One question which has the potential to destroy your currently imagined business

You should be terrified of at least one of the questions you're asking in every conversation.

There's more reliable information in a meh than a wow. You can't build a business in a lukewarm response.

Start broad and then zoom in until you've found a powerful signal both with your entire business and with every conversation.

Beyond the risks of our customers and market, we also have challenges with our own product. Overlooking product risks is just as deadly as overlooking the goals and constraints of our customers.

  • Product Risks - Can I build it? Can I grow it?
  • Customer/Market Risk - Do they want it? Will they pay me? Are there lots of them?

Pre-Plan the 3 most important things you want to learn from any type of person. Update the list as your questions change.

Chapter 4 Keeping it Casual

Learning about a customer and their problems works better as a quick and casual chat than a long, formal meeting.

Asking the right questions is fast and touches on topics that people find quite interesting

If it feels like they are doing you a favour by talking to you, it's probably too formal.

I didn't need anything else, because I'd learned what I came for: they don't have the problem.

We disproved our idea before the guy even realized we were walking about it.

Give as little information as possible about your idea while still nudging the discussion in a useful direction.

Chapter 5 Commitment and Advancement

In sales, moving the relationship to the next stage is called "advancement"

Advancement and Commitment are separate concepts which overlap quite a lot and appear together.

  • Commitment - they are showing they are serious by giving up something they value, such as time, reputation, or money.
  • Advancement - They are moving to the next step of your real world funnel and getting closer to purchasing.

Customers who keep being friendly but aren't ever going to buy are a dangerous source of mixed signals.

The real failure is not even asking

If you don't know what happens next after a product or sales meeting, the meeting was pointless

The major currencies are time, reputation risk and cash

A time constraint could include:

  • Clear next meeting with known goals
  • Sitting down to give feedback on wireframes
  • Using trial of the product for a non-trivial period

Reputation Risk:

  • Intro to peers or team
  • Intro to a decision maker
  • Giving public testimonial or case study

Financial commitments are easier to imagine and include:

  • Letter of intent
  • Pre-order
  • Deposit

It's not a genuine lead until you've given them a concrete chance to reject you

In the early stage sales, the proper goal is learning. Revenue is a side effect.

Chapter 6 Finding Conversations

The goal of cold conversations is to stop having them.

The only thing people love talking about more than themselves if their problems

If it's not a formal meeting you don't need to make excuses about why you 're there or even mention that you're starting a business. Just ask about their lives.

If it's a topic you both care about, find an excuse to talk about it. Your idea never needs to enter the equation and you'll both enjoy the chat.

Get your product out there see who seems to like it most, and then reach out to those types of users for deeper learning.

Blogging about any industry is also an excellent exercise to get your thoughts in a row. It makes you a better customer conversationalist.

You can find anyone you need if you ask for it twice.

If you don't know why you 're there, it becomes a sales meeting by default, which is bad for 3 reasons. First, the customer closes up about certain important topics like pricing. Second, attention shifts to you instead of them. And finally, it's going to be the worst sales meeting ever because you aren't ready.

Vision / Framing / Weakness / Pedestal / Ask

The goal of the VFWPA structure is to specify exactly what I need and how they, in particular, can help.

I get confused enough by what people are telling me in person. Losing access to their face and body language feels like shooting myself in my foot.

If you've run over 10 conversations and are still getting results that are all over the map, then it's possible that your customer segment is too vague which means you're mashing together feedback from multiple different customers.

It's not about how many meetings. It's about having enough for you to really understand your customers.

Same way you know your close friends, with a firm grip on their goals, their frustrations, what else they've tried and how they currently deal with it.

Keep having conversations until you stop hearing new stuff.

Chapter 7 Choosing Your Customers

Talking to multiple customers segments all at once, which leads to confusing signals and three problems:

  1. You get overwhelmed by options and don't know where to start
  2. You aren't moving forward if you can't prove yourself wrong
  3. You receive mixed feedback and can't make sense of it

If you aren't finding consistent problems and goals, you don't have a specific enough customer segment

Use customer slicing to pick up a few concrete starting points.

A customer segment isn't very useful if there's no way you can get in touch.

Now that we have a bunch of who what pairs we can start based on who seems most:

  1. Profitable
  2. Easy to reach
  3. Rewarding

Choose someone who is specific and who also meets the three big criteria of being reachable, profitable, and rewarding.

Good customer segments are a who where pair. If you don't know where to go to find your customers, keep slicing your segment into smaller pieces until you do.

A common question is whether you need to run customer conversations separately for all the various segments in a multi-sided marketplace. Yes, you do!

Chapter 8 Running the Process

Avoiding Bottlenecks has three parts: prepping, reviewing and taking good notes

Your most important preparation work is to ensure you know your current list of 3 big questions

You should also know what commitment and next steps you are going to push for at the end of the meeting.

If you 're about to meet with a business, do your basic due diligence on LinkedIn

Sit down with your whole founding team when you prep.

If you don't know what you 're trying to learn, you shouldn't bother having the conversation

Just review your notes with the team and update your beliefs and big three questions as appropriate

The goal is to ensure the learning is now on paper and in everyone's head, not just yours.

Talk about the meta-level of the conversation

Disseminate teachings to your team quickly and as directly as possible, using notes, and exact quotes whenever you can.

Meetings go best when you got two people at them. One person can focus on taking notes and the other talking.

Don't send over two people unless it's a group on group

When possible, write exact quotes. Add symbols to your notes as context and short-hand.

You want to take your customers notes so that they are:

  • able to be sorted, mixed, and re-arranged
  • able to be combined with the notes of the team
  • Permanent and retrievable
  • Not mixed with other random noise.

Notes are useless if you don't look at them

Refer to the process of before a batch of conversations on page 116.