This is the first of my Takeaways series, the series where I give you what I thought you should take away (duh) from the business books I read.
So without further ado, let’s talk about the Mom Test.
Why I read it and why you should as well
The Mom Test is lauded as being one of the best books to read if you’re looking to test a business idea. Everybody knows you should talk to your customers, but what does that really mean, and how do you do it?
The Mom Test explains practically how to get non-biased, valuable feedback on your ideas, potentially saving you lots of time and money.
If you ever asked “What do you think of this idea” or “Do you think this would work” which are two of the worst questions you could ever ask for business feedback, this book is for you.
Human brains are weird. We constantly look for things that we like and make us feel good and that includes compliments and making OTHER people feel good. This basic human psychology has direct consequences on business feedback:
- People will (willingly or not) try to protect your feelings if they know the idea comes from you
- When answering you, people will naturally go into fluff and empty compliments
DO NOT TALK ABOUT YOUR IDEA, TALK ABOUT THE PROBLEM YOU THINK YOUR IDEA SOLVES.
This is repeated throughout the book, so if you have anything to take away from it, this would be it. People are genuine about the issues they have, and the ones they don’t have as well.
The Mom Test framework
The framework is the meat of the book, here’s how I would sum it up in 8 bullet points:
1 - Do not pitch your idea. Already said, but it might happen again. No worries, you can always get back on track. Fun fact: When I wanted to try the mom test for myself I failed all my first 3 attempts. It’s hard not to talk about what your brain tells you to talk about. (Don’t know if I’m clear, but trust me)
2 - Keep it casual. It helps greasing the conversational gears, people will be more open to tell you about their issues, which is what you want in the first place.
3 - Talk less, listen more. Speaks for itself, the more you know about them and the issues, the better you’ll understand the underlying problems
4 - Prepare 3 big questions. You know the questions are big if they can invalidate your idea completely. For instance, I wanted to automate meeting rescheduling with a Google calendar extension. One of my big questions was “How were the meetings handled ?” and most of the responses I had were either Calendly or their CRM which made the extension a bad idea
5 - Deflect compliments if they come about because they don’t add any actual value to the feedback. Try to get back on the track of your big 3.
6 - Anchor fluff and generalities. A typical answer when you ask “how often does this problem happen” is “all the time !” which make it seem like a validation of your idea. Be specific and ask “when was the last time it happened ?”. You will be surprised with the answers you get.
7 - Look for emotional cues, if your problem drives no emotions it’s probably not a real problem. If their indifferent emotionally to your issue, you’re either not talking to your target or either not addressing a problem. Frustration is usually the one you hope for. Regardless, even if it’s happiness, dig into that emotion to find out precisely what caused it. Time wasted? Prices? Reliability?
8 - Ask for commitment. If your product is already out, don’t be scared to ask to work out a commitment. “Great idea, tell us when it’s out” does not mean anything as you should know by now. Commitment (another meeting, a preorder, a signed contract) from your prospect is validation that your idea is actually a problem solver.
An excerpt straight from the book :
This excerpt from the book shows a conversation between you and your potential customers, including the inner dialog. It shows how the framework can be applied even if you slipped:
The Mom Test, page 26
A good conversation:
You: “...And that’s it. It’s like X for Y, but better because of Z.” Rats, I just slipped into pitch mode. Let’s try to recover this and learn something.
Them: “That’s really cool. I love it.” How is this even relevant to me? (Compliment)
You: “Whoops — really sorry about that — I got excited and started pitching. Listen: you guys seem to be doing a good job in this space — do you mind if I ask how you’re dealing with this stuff at the moment?” That compliment made me suspicious. Let's deflect it and find out whether they're a potential customer or are just trying to get rid of me.
Them: “What? Oh, well, sure. We’ve got a couple people who manage the process just to make sure we’re all in sync, and then we use Excel and a lot of emails to keep it all moving. Anyway, I really like your idea. I’m sure it will do well.” If you want facts, here they are, but your idea still isn’t a good fit for me and there’s no way I’m going to express an interest in buying (notice the sneaky compliment at the end)
You : “I haven’t heard of anyone solving it quite like that — that’s interesting. Can you talk me through how it actually all fits together?” Let's ignore & deflect that compliment to focus on the fact that they’re spending a lot of money to solve this. Two full time staff !? I didn’t know it was worth this much.
Them: (More delicious workflow data)
You: “What sort of difficulties have come up with that solution?” This is a bit generic and isn’t the world’s greatest question, but I’m trying to find an anchor to learn about workflow inefficiencies and bumps. When I find one, I’ll dig around that signal with more follow-ups.
Them: (Even more workflow and alternate solution data)
If we’re early in the learning process, the meeting could end here quite happily. We have the learning we came for. If we were slightly later-stage and already had a product, we might continue by zooming in and pushing for commitments or sales.
Remember though: you don’t need to end up with what you wanted to hear in order to have a good conversation. You just need to get to the truth.
The Mom Test is full of conversation examples like this one, clearly showing how to apply the framework in a practical situation. I found this very helpful as somebody who always was more tech centric than people centric.
This is, of course, a diluted version, the book provides a ton of examples of proper conversations and situations. What I took away works for me as somebody who is in the screening process of good vs bad ideas. I definitely recommend it, it’s not long, has very practical advice and a very low bullshit content which I always enjoy.
In a future post, I'll try to document how I myself used the Mom Test to filter out bad ideas from the better ones.