The Mom Test - how to talk to customers and learn if your business is a good idea when everybody is lying to you
How much do I want to read more? 7/10
A simple book that emphasize asking the right questions not to be too pushy on one's business idea, and still get relevant informations to be guided into the product customers actually need.
Trying to learn from customer conversations is like excavating a delicate archaeological site. The truth is down there somewhere, but it’s fragile. While each blow with your shovel gets you closer to the truth, you’re liable to smash it into a million little pieces if you use too blunt an instrument.
I see a lot of teams using a bulldozer and crate of dynamite for their excavation. They are, in one way or another, forcing people to say something nice about their business. They use heavy-handed questions like “do you think it’s a good idea”
At the other end of the spectrum, some founders are using a toothbrush to unearth a city, flinching away from digging deep and finding out whether anything of value is actually buried down there.
The truth is our goal and questions are our tools. But we must learn to wield them. It’s delicate work. And well worth learning. There’s treasure below.
Talking to customers is hard
Bad customer conversations aren’t just useless. Worse, they convince you that you’re on the right path.
Why another book on talking and selling?
Firstly, I’m a techie, not a sales guy. I’m introverted and naturally bad in meetings.
CHAPTER ONE - The Mom Test
People say you shouldn’t ask your mom whether your business is a good idea.
You shouldn’t ask anyone whether your business is a good idea.
Your mom will lie to you the most (just ‘cuz she loves you), but it’s a bad question and invites everyone to lie to you at least a little.
It’s our responsibility to find it. We do that by asking good questions.
The Mom Test is a set of simple rules for crafting good questions that even your mom can't lie to you about.
Failing the mom test
- Son: “You like your iPad, right? You use it a lot?”
- Mom: "Yes"
- Son: “Okay, so would you ever buy an app which was like a cookbook for your iPad?”
- Mom: “Hmmm.” As if I need another cookbook at my age.
- Son: “And it only costs $40 — that’s cheaper than those hardcovers on your shelf.”
- Mom: “Well…” Aren’t apps supposed to cost a dollar?
- Son: “And you can share recipes with your friends, and there’s an iPhone app which is your shopping list. And videos of that celebrity chef you love.” Please just say “yes.” I will not leave you alone until you do.
- Mom: “Oh, well yes honey, that sounds amazing. And you’re right, $40 is a good deal. Will it have pictures of the recipes?” I have rationalised the price outside of a real purchase decision, made a non-committal compliment, and offered a feature request to appear engaged.
- Son: “Yes, definitely. Thanks mom — love you!” I have completely mis-interpreted this conversation and taken it as validation.
- Mom: “Won’t you have some lasagna?” I am concerned that you won’t be able to afford food soon. Please eat something.
convinced he’s right, quits his job, and sinks his savings into the app. Then he wonders why nobody (even his mom) buys the app,
Doing it wrong is worse than doing nothing at all
Passing the mom test
- Son: “Hey mom, how’s that new iPad treating you?”
- Mom: “Oh - I love it! I use it every day.”
- Son: “What do you usually do on it?” Whoops — we asked a generic question, so answer to this probably won’t be terribly valuable.
- Mom: “Oh, you know. Read the news, play sudoku, catch up with my friends. The usual.”
- Son: “What’s the last thing you did on it?” Get specific about examples in the past to get real, concrete data.
- Mom: “You know your father and I are planning that trip? I was figuring out where we could stay. “ She uses it for both entertainment and utility, which didn’t come up during the “usually” answer.
- Son: “Did you use an app for that?” A slightly leading question, but sometimes we need to nudge to get to the topic we’re interested in.
- Mom: “No, I just used Google. I didn’t know there was an app. What’s it called?” Younger folks use the App Store as a search engine, whereas your mom waits for a specific recommendation. If that’s true more broadly, finding a reliable marketing channel outside the App Store is going to be crucial.
- Son: “Where did you find out about the other ones you use?” Dig into interesting and unexpected answers to understand the behaviours and motivations behind them.
- Mom: “The Sunday paper has a section on the apps of the week.”
- Son: “Makes sense. Hey, by the way, I saw a couple new cookbooks on the shelf — where did those come from?” Business ideas usually have several failure points. Here it’s both the medium of an iPad app and the content of a cookbook.
- Mom: “They’re one of those things you just end up getting at Christmas. I think Marcy gave me that one. Haven’t even opened it. As if I need another lasagna recipe at my age!” Aha! This answer is gold dust for 3 reasons: 1. Old people don’t need another generic set of recipes. 2. The gift market may be strong . 3. Younger cooks may be a better customer segment since they don’t yet know the basics.
- Son: “What’s the last cookbook you did buy for yourself?” Attack generic answers like “I don’t buy cookbooks” by asking for specific examples.
- Mom: “Now that you mention it, I bought a vegan cookbook about 3 months ago. Your father is trying to eat healthier and thought my veggies could benefit from a pinch more zazz.” More gold: experienced chefs may still buy specialised or niche cookbooks.
A useful conversation
Mom was unable to lie to us because we never talked about our idea.
Eventually you do need to mention what you’re building and take people’s money for it. However, the big mistake is almost always to mention your idea too soon rather than too late.
If you just avoid mentioning your idea, you automatically start asking better questions.
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 called The Mom Test because it leads to questions that even your mom can’t lie to you about. When you do it right, they won’t even know you have an idea.
Good question / bad question
- “Do you think it’s a good idea?”
- “Would you buy a product which did X?”
- “How much would you pay for X?”
- “What would your dream product do?”
- “Why do you bother?”
- “What are the implications of that?”
- “Talk me through the last time that happened.”
- “Talk me through your workflow.”
- “What else have you tried?”
- “Would you pay X for a product which did Y?”
- “How are you dealing with it now?”
- “Where does the money come from?”
- “Who else should I talk to?”
- “Is there anything else I should have asked?”