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The Mom Test book summary

The Mom Test book cover

Chapter 1: The Mom Test

  • 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
  • Rules of thumb around good / bad questions:

    • Opinions are worthless
    • Anything involving the future is an over-optimistic lie
    • People will lie to you if they think that’s what you want to hear
    • People know what their problems are, but don’t know how to solve them
    • Understand their goals
    • Some problems don’t actually matter
    • Being shown the process the customer goes through will show you the inefficiencies (the customer might not realise it themselves)
    • If they haven’t looked for ways to solve the problem, they’re not going to look for yours
  • Using the Mom Test - 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.

Chapter 2: Avoiding bad data

  • The 3 types of bad data:

    • Compliments
    • Fluff (generics, future-tense promises and hypothetical maybes - “I usually”, “I always”, “I never”, “I would”, “I will”, “I might”, “I could”...)
    • Ideas
  • Compliments - you need to deflect these and ignore. Do not take at face value. People will tell you things they think you want to hear to protect your ego. Compliments are worthless and people’s approval doesn’t make your business better.

  • Anchor fluff - follow The Mom Test and bring them back to specifics in the past. Ask when it last happened, for them to talk you through it, how they solved it, and what else they tried.

  • Ideas - when customers start giving feature ideas, don’t take them at face value. Dig into why their underlying motivations to understand must-haves vs nice-to-haves and whether there’s a better way of achieving the underlying thing they want.

  • Sample questions to dig into feature requests:

    • “Why do you want that?”
    • “What would that let you do?”
    • “How are you coping without it?”
    • “Do you think we should push back the launch add that feature, or is it something we could add later?”
    • How would that fit into your day?
  • Samples questions to dig into emotional signals:

    • “Tell me more about that.”
    • “That seems to really bug you — I bet there’s a story here.”
    • “What makes it so awful?”
    • “Why haven’t you been able to fix this already?”
    • “You seem pretty excited about that — it’s a big deal?”
    • “Why so happy?”
    • “Go on.”
  • Other things:

    • If you find yourself in pitch mode, cut it off, apologise and go back to asking questions
    • Talk less

Chapter 3: Asking important questions

  • Every time you talk to someone, you should be asking a question which has the potential to completely destroy your currently imagined business.

  • The best way to do this is to run thought experiments on your business - imagine it failed, what caused it? Imagine it’s a huge success - why?

  • Start broad and don't zoom in until you’ve found a strong signal, both with your whole business and with every conversation. Sample of “does-this-matter” questions:

    • “How seriously do you take your blog?”
    • “Do you make money from it?”
    • “Have you tried making more money from it?”
    • “How much time do you spend on it each week?”
    • “Do you have any major aspirations for your blog?”
    • “Which tools and services do you use for it?”
    • “What are you already doing to improve this?”
    • “What are the 3 big things you’re trying to fix or improve right now?”
  • The two risks are Product Risk and Market Risk.

    • Product risk — Can I build it? Can I grow it? Will they keep using it?
    • Market risk — Do they want it? Will they pay? Are there enough of them?
    • Heavy product risk means you can’t prove your business through conversations alone. It’ll mean you having to build your product earlier with less certainty.
  • Prepare a list of the 3 biggest questions you need answers to to keep you focused during the interviews.

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, especially for the first meeting when you’re not introducing your idea and just trying to figure out if there is a problem to solve.

  • If it feels like they’re doing you a favour by talking to you, it’s probably too formal.

Chapter 5: Commitment and advancement

  • Once you’ve validated the problem and obtained the key facts, zoom in, start revealing your idea and show some product. Beware of nefarious comments and weed out false positives by asking for commitments.

  • “Customers” who keep being friendly but aren’t ever going to buy are a particularly dangerous source of mixed signals. Make sure you keep measuring your customer’s:

    • Commitment — They are showing they’re 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 a sale.
  • Meetings either succeed or fail. There’s no such thing as a meeting that just “went well”.

    • You've lost the meeting when you leave with a compliment or a stalling tactic
    • A meeting has succeeded when it ends with a commitment to advance to the next step
    • You need to be the one to ask for a clear commitment or next step. You might be rejected. That’s sad but a data point. The true failure is not asking.
  • Think of commitment as currency - what are they giving up for you? The major currencies are time, reputation risk, and cash. - Time commitment could include: clear next meeting with known goals, sitting down to give feedback on wireframes, using a trial themselves 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 - Financial commitments: Letter of intent (non-legal but gentlemanly agreement to purchase), pre-order, deposit

Chapter 6: Finding conversations

  • Going to them

    • Cold outreach - LinkedIn, calls, emails. It’ll be cold at first, but the idea is to get the ball rolling to warm intros from them.
    • Seize serendipity and just have a nice conversation
    • Find a good excuse - e.g. PhD thesis
    • Immerse yourself in where they are
    • Landing pages with follow up cold email
  • Bringing them to you

    • Organise meetups
    • Speaking and teaching
    • Industry blogging - for building an audience and sending requests when needed. But also for allowing others to see you’re credible when you do cold outreach.
    • Get clever and hacky e.g. organising knowledge exchanges
  • Creating warm intros

    • 7 degrees of Bacon. We just have to ask.
    • Your industry advisors
    • University professors
    • Investors
    • Cash in your past favours
  • Asking for and framing the meeting

    • Structure it as: Vision / Framing / Weakness / Pedestal / Ask
  1. You're an entrepreneur trying to solve horrible problem X, usher in wonderful vision Y, or fix stagnant industry Z. Don't mention your idea.
  2. Frame expectations by mentioning what stage you're at and, if it's true, that you don't have anything to sell.
  3. Show weakness and give them a chance to help by mentioning your specific problem that you're looking for answers on. This will also clarify that you're not a time waster.
  4. Put them on a pedestal by showing how much they, in particular, can help.
  5. Ask for help
    • It doesn’t necessarily have to go in this order - do what sounds naturally and stops it being too sales-y (the book has some good examples of email copy).
  • Commute or calls - recommends calls. You’re trying to be friends.

  • Don’t go into looking for customers. Go in search of industry and customer advisors. It’s a mindset switch.

  • Keep having conversations until you stop hearing new stuff. If you’ve run more than 10 conversations and are still getting results that are all over the map, customer segment might be too fuzzy.

Chapter 7: Choosing your customers

  • Segmentation - If you aren’t finding consistent problems and goals, you don’t yet have a specific enough customer segment.

  • 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.

    • Within this group, which type of this person would want it most?
    • Would everyone within this group buy/use it, or only some of them?
    • Why do they want it? (e.g. What is their problem or goal)
    • Does everyone in the group have that motivation or only some of them?
    • What additional motivations are there?
    • Which other types of people have these motivations?
  • When you have a segment to focus on, figure out how to find them. If they are not findable, choose another segment.

    • What are these people already doing to achieve their goal or survive their problem?
    • Where can we find our demographic groups?
    • Where can we find people doing the above workaround behaviours?
  • When you have a number of who-where pairs, start by choosing based on how:

  1. Profitable
  2. Easy to reach
  3. Rewarding for us to build a business around they are.

Chapter 8: Running the process

  • Avoiding bottlenecks has three parts: prepping, reviewing, and taking good notes.

  • Prepping

    • Do quick desk research about the customer and company so you can skip the obvious questions.
    • Nail your 3 big questions.
    • Jot down facts you already know / found out about the customer / industry,
    • Know what the commitments you’ll ask for are, and next steps.
    • Jot down your current beliefs about the customer / industry. You’ll probably be wrong but you’ll at least have a skeleton to follow in your conversation to keep it focused. Then continually update this with subsequent interviews.
    • Involving the entire founding team to ensure balanced representation
    • Unearth hidden risks:
    • If this company were to fail, why would it have happened?
    • What would have to be true for this to be a huge success?
    • Just keep asking yourself, ““What do we want to learn from these customers?”
  • Reviewing

    • After a conversation, review your notes with your team and update your beliefs and 3 big questions as appropriate.
    • Share key takeaways and problems with team.
    • Ask yourself what questions worked and didn’t work.How can we do better next time? Were there any important signals or questions we missed?
  • Who should show up

    • Everyone on the team who is making big decisions (including tech decisions) needs to go to at least some of the meetings.
    • 2 people in a meeting is best.
  • Taking good notes

    • When poss, write down exact quotes
    • You can later use them in your marketing language, fund-raising decks, and to resolve arguments with skeptical teammates.
    • Capture their emotions in your notes. All about context.
    • Record your customer notes so they are:
    • Able to be sorted, mixed, and re-arranged
    • Able to be combined with the notes of the rest of your team
    • Permanent and retrievable
    • Not mixed in with other random noise like to-do lists and ideas
    • With this in mind, taking notes in a notebook is probably not helpful. Better to use Google Sheets or maybe index cards. See pg 105 for symbols to make note taking faster.
  • The process

    • The process before a batch of conversations:
      • If you haven’t yet, choose a focused, findable segment
      • With your team, decide your big 3 learning goals
      • If relevant, decide on ideal next steps and commitments
      • If conversations are the right tool, figure out who to talk to
      • Create a series of best guesses about what the person cares about
      • If a question could be answered via desk research, do that first
    • During the conversation:
      • Frame the conversation
      • Keep it casual
      • Ask good questions which pass The Mom Test
      • Deflect compliments, anchor fluff, and dig beneath signals
      • Take good notes
      • If relevant, press for commitment and next steps
    • After a batch of conversations:
      • With your team, review your notes and key customer quotes
      • If relevant, transfer notes into permanent storage
      • Update your beliefs and plans
      • Decide on the next 3 big questions
    • The time scales of the process are important. The point is to make your business move faster, not slower.
    • Don’t spend a week prepping for meetings; spend an hour and then go talk to people. Anything more is stalling.
    • Don’t spend months doing full-time customer conversations before beginning to move on a product. Spend a week, maybe two. Get your bearings and then give them something to commit to.
    • You’ll keep talking to customers for the life of your company.

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