According to The Mom Test book, we know that we ought to talk to customers. Many of us even do talk to customers. But we still end up building stuff nobody buys. Isn’t that exactly what talking to people is meant to prevent? It turns out almost all of us are doing it wrong.
The advice that you “should talk to customers” is well-intentioned, but ultimately a bit unhelpful. It’s like the popular kid advising his nerdy friend to “just be cooler.” You still have to know how to actually do it.
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. At least not in those words. Your mom will lie to you the most, (because she loves you), but it’s a bad question and invites everyone to lie to you at least a little.
It’s not anyone else’s responsibility to show us the truth. 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.
- Challenge: According to the next list of questions, select the 2 bad questions to make to a potential user/customer according to the author:
Here are 3 simple rules to help you. They are collectively called (drumroll) 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.
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. Once you’ve taken the leap, you confirm that it’s correct through Commitment & Advancement.
Avoiding bad data
There are three types of bad data:
- Fluff (generics, hypotheticals, and the future)
Sometimes we invite the bad data ourselves by asking the wrong questions, but even when you try to follow The Mom Test, conversations still go off track. It could happen because you got excited and started pitching.
Asking Important questions
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.
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. Your 3 questions will be different for each type of person you’re talking to. If you have multiple types of customers or partners, have a list of each.
Don’t stress too much about choosing the “right” important questions. They will change. Just choose whatever seems murkiest or most important right now. Answer those will give you firmer footing and a better sense of direction for your next 3.
You might get answers 1-3 from customer A, answer 4 from customer B, answers 5-7 from customer C. There’s overlap and repetition, but you don’t need to repeat the full set of questions with every participant. Your time is valuable: don’t feel obligated to repeat questions you already have solid data on. Pick up where you left off and keep filling in the picture.
- Challenge: According to the author is important to identify if your idea has a “product risk” or “customer/market risk”. If you’ve got heavy product risk (as opposed to pure market risk), you're not going to be able to prove as much of your business through conversations alone. The conversations give you a starting point, but you’ll have to start building products earlier and with less certainty than if you had pure market risk. The author talks about the kind of risk in video games industry for instance. According to that, what kind of risk that industry has?
Keeping it casual
When you strip all the formality from the process, you end up with no meetings, no “interviews”, and a much easier time all around. The conversations become so fast and lightweight that you can go to an industry meetup and leave with a dozen customers conversations under your belt, each of which provided as much value as a lengthy formal meeting.
The structure of separate problem/solution/sales conversations is critical for avoiding bias, but it’s important to realise that the first one doesn’t actually need to be a meeting. It works better as a chat.
Learning from customers doesn’t mean you have to be wearing a suit and sipping ominous boardroom cafe. Asking the right questions is fast and