Summary : The Mom Test by Rob Fitzpatrick

1. People say you shouldn’t ask your mom whether your business is a good idea. That’s technically true, but it misses the point. You shouldn’t ask anyone whether your business is a good idea.

2. The Mom Test is a set of simple rules for crafting good questions that even your mom can't lie to you about.

3. 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, in turn, help us improve our business.

4. If you just avoid mentioning your idea, you automatically start asking better questions. Doing this is the easiest (and biggest) improvement you can make to your customer conversations.

5. 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

6. Are the following questions good or bad? Do they pass or fail The Mom Test?

  • “Do you think it’s a good idea?” - Bad
  • “Would you buy a product which did X?” - Bad
  • “How much would you pay for X?” - Bad
  • “What would your dream product do?” Sort-of-okay question, but only if you ask good follow-ups. Otherwise it’s a bad question.
  • “Why do you bother?” -Good. Points to motivation on why do things a particular way
  • “What are the implications of that?”-Good
  • “Talk me through the last time that happened.”-Good. 
  • “Talk me through your workflow.” -Good. Whenever possible, you want to be shown, not told, by your customers.
  • “What else have you tried?” - Good. If they haven't looked for ways of solving it already, they're not going to look for (or buy) yours.
  • “Would you pay X for a product which did Y?” - Bad
  • “How are you dealing with it now?” - Good
  • “Where does the money come from?” - Good. It leads to a conversation about whose budget the purchase will come from and who else within their company holds the power to torpedo the deal.
  • Who else should I talk to?” - Good.
  • “Is there anything else I should have asked?” - Good. People want to help you. Give them an excuse to do so.

7. The questions to ask are about your customers’ lives: their problems, cares, constraints, and goals. You humbly and honestly gather as much information about them as you can and then take your own visionary leap to a solution.

8. 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, you own the solution.

9. With the exception of industry experts who have built very similar businesses, opinions are worthless. You want facts and commitments, not compliments.

10. Startups are about focusing and executing on a single, scalable idea rather than jumping on every good one which crosses your desk.

11. 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.”

12. Ideas and feature requests should be understood, but not obeyed.

13. Folks tend not to lie about specific stuff that’s already happened, regardless of your ego.

14. In short, remember that compliments are worthless and people’s approval doesn’t make your business better. Keep your idea and your ego out of the conversation until you’re ready to ask for commitments.

15. In addition to ensuring that you aren’t asking trivialities, you also need to search out the world-rocking scary questions you’ve been unintentionally shrinking from. The best way to find them is with thought experiments. Imagine that the company has failed and ask why that happened. Then imagine it as a huge success and ask what had to be true to get there. Find ways to learn about those critical pieces.

16. Every time you talk to someone, you should be asking at least one question which has the potential to destroy your currently imagined business.

17. There’s more reliable information in a “meh” than a “Wow!” You can’t build a business on a lukewarm response.

18. Everyone has problems they know about, but don’t actually care enough about to fix. And if you zoom in too quickly and lead them to that semi-problem, they’ll happily drown you in all the unimportant details. Zooming in too quickly on a super-specific problem before you understand the rest of the customers life can irreparably confuse your learnings.

19. When it’s not clear whether a problem is a must-solve-right-now (e.g. you’re selling a painkiller) or a nice-to-have (you’re selling a vitamin), you can get some clarity by asking cost/value questions like the following.

20. “Does-this-problem-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?”

21. Rule of thumb: Start broad and don't zoom in until you’ve found a strong signal, both with your whole business and with every conversation.

22. Pre-plan the 3 most important things you want to learn from any given type of person (e.g. customers, investors, industry experts, key hires, etc). Update the list as your questions change. Pre-planning your big questions makes it a lot easier to ask questions which pass The Mom Test.

23. Rule of thumb: Learning about a customer and their problems works better as a quick and casual chat than a long, formal meeting.

24. Once you have a product and the meetings take on a more sales-oriented feel, you’ll want to start carving out clear blocks of 30ish minutes.

25. You might lose 5 minutes due to miscellaneous tardiness, spend 5 minutes saying hello, 5 minutes asking questions to understand their goals/problems/budget, 10 minutes to show/describe the product, and the last 5 minutes figuring out next steps and advancement. That's your half hour.

26. Rule of thumb: Give as little information as possible about your idea while still nudging the discussion in a useful direction.

27. Rule of thumb: “Customers” who keep being friendly but aren’t ever going to buy are a particularly dangerous source of mixed signals.

28. Commitment — They are showing they’re serious by giving up something they value such as time, reputation, or money.

29. Advancement — They are moving to the next step of your real-world funnel and getting closer purchasing.

30. If you leave with worthless wishy washiness, I’d bet you’re falling for one (or both) of the following traps: 

  1. You’re asking for their opinion about your idea (e.g. fishing for compliments) 
  2. You’re not asking for a clear commitment or next steps

31. Rule of thumb: If you don’t know what happens next after a product or sales meeting, the meeting was pointless.

32. Rule of thumb: The more they’re giving up, the more seriously you can take what they’re saying.

33. First customers are crazy. Crazy in a good way. They really, really want what you’re making. They want it so badly that they’re willing to be the crazy person who tries it first.

34. Keep an eye out for the people who get emotional about what you’re doing. There is a significant difference between: “Yeah, that’s a problem” and “THAT IS THE WORST PART OF MY LIFE AND I WILL PAY YOU RIGHT NOW TO FIX IT.”

35. Firstly, when someone isn’t too emotional about what you’re doing, they are unlikely to end up being one of your crazy first customers. Keep them on the list and try to make them happy, of course, but don’t count on them to write the first check.

36. Secondly, whenever you see the deep emotion, do your utmost to keep that person close.

37. Rule of thumb: In early stage sales, the real goal is learning. Revenue is a side-effect.

38. The only thing people love talking about more than themselves is their problems. By taking an interest in the problems and minutia of their day, you’re already more interesting than 99% of the people they’ve ever met.

39. Warm intros are the goal. Conversations are infinitely easier when you get an intro through a mutual friend that establishes your credibility and reason for being there.

40.The world is a relatively small place. Everyone knows someone. We just have to remember to ask.

41. Rule of thumb: Kevin Bacon’s 7 degrees of separation applies to customer conversations. You can find anyone you need if you ask for it a couple times.

42. I relied heavily on advisors in my first company. We didn’t know the industry and nobody took us seriously. Our 5 advisors each had around a half percent of equity and basically just made credible intros.

43. On a bit of a tangent, you’d be surprised by the quality of the folks you can get to join your advisory board.

44. I’m jealous of founders who are still in (or recently out of) university. Professors are a goldmine for intros. They get their grant-funding from friendly, high-level industry folks. And since they’re investing in research, those industry folks are self-selected to be excited about new projects.

45. Top-tier investors are awesome for B2B intros. Beyond their own rolodex and company portfolio, they can usually pull off cold intros to practically any industry. Investors can also help you close better advisors and directors than you’d be able to wrangle on your own.

46. Remember all those people who brushed you off by saying, “Sounds great, keep me in the loop and let me know how I can help”? Now’s the time to call in those favours. Yes, they might not have actually meant it, but who cares? Reply back to that ancient email and tell them you’re ready for an intro to that guy they know.

47. The UX community (who knows their customer conversation!) says you should keep talking to people until you stop hearing new information.

48. Under perfect circumstances where your first guesses are mostly correct and you’re in a relatively simple industry that you already understand, then you it might only take 3-5 conversations to confirm what you already believe.

49. If you’ve run more than 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 types of customers.

50. Rule of thumb: Keep having conversations until you stop hearing new stuff.

51. They say that startups don’t starve, they drown. You never have too few options, too few leads, or too few ideas; you have too many. You get overwhelmed. You do a little bit of everything. When it comes to getting above water and making faster progress, good customer segmentation is your best friend.

52. Before we can serve everyone, we have to serve someone. Forgetting about all the possibilities and focusing on who would most likely buy, she decided it was moms with young kids who are currently shopping at health food stores.

53. Rule of thumb: If you aren’t finding consistent problems and goals, you don’t have a specific enough customer segment.

54. If there isn’t a clear physical or digital location at which you can find your customer segment, then it’s probably still too broad.

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

56. Now that we have a bunch of who-where pairs, we can decide who to start with based on who seems most:

  1. Profitable or big 
  2. Easy to reach 
  3. Personally rewarding

57. Rule of thumb: 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.

58. 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.

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

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

61. After a conversation, just review your notes with your team and update your beliefs and big three questions as appropriate.

62. The review is important. Disseminate learnings to your team as quickly and as directly as possible, using notes and exact quotes wherever you can. It keeps you in sync, leads to better decisions, prevents arguments, and allows your whole team to benefit from the learning you’ve worked so hard to acquire.

63. You can't outsource or hire someone to do customer learning. There are exceptional team dynamics where it works, but generally speaking, the founders need to be in the meetings themselves. When a hired gun brings you bad news (“The problem isn’t real and nobody cares”), properly assimilating it is difficult.

64. Hiring out your learning is a guaranteed way to get bad signals. Until you’ve got a working business model and a repeatable sales or marketing process, the founders need to be in the meetings themselves.

65. Any strong emotion is worth writing down.

66. What is a better note-taking medium? Google Docs spreadsheets and Evernote are both great for team sharing, search, and retrieval. Spreadsheets are wonderfully sortable if you write your key signals in their own column.

67. 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

68. 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

69. 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

70. Beyond the obvious influence from Steve Blank and Eric Ries, a big thanks to some other writers who have directly helped this book with their work: Amy Hoy on worldviews, Brant Cooper on segmentation, Richard Rumelt and Lafley/Martin on strategy, Neil Rackham on sales, and Derek Sivers on remembering that businesses are meant to make you happy.