The Mom Test stems from the very notion that you, as someone with a start-up idea, should never ask your mom if your business idea is a good one. The reason is that Mothers always validate your ideas is because this space comes from a place of love, not always honesty and logic. The Mom Test is a set of simple rules for crafting good questions for customer conversations that even your mom can’t lie to you about. When it comes to data extracting conversations, it’s important to remember that “Doing it wrong is worse than doing nothing at all.” Collecting a handful of false positives is never an improvement.
You should be asking generic questions. These do not lead to biased answers/ the answers you are looking for. Never put the path of answers you are looking for in the tone of the question. Let them be open-ended, but about the topic, you wish to learn more about.
For example, if you have an idea for a recipe app for iPads, do not begin the conversation with your Mother with “Mom, I have an idea for a business – you like your iPad, and you would buy an app for recipes to use on your iPad, right?” This conversation starter begins with your Mother knowing that you are about to expose your ego. And because she never wants you to feel bad/hurt, she will be encouraging regardless of whether she would, as a consumer, invest in such a product.
A better way to initiate this conversation would be to say, “Hey Mom, how is the iPad treating you?” And then, slowly asking questions such as “What do you usually do on it?” or “Do you have an app for X?” based on their answers. This results in you gradually gaining knowledge about your idea without guiding the conversation to your desired answers.
The measure of the usefulness of an early customer conversation is whether it gives us concrete facts about our customers’ lives and world views. This helps improve the business. If you don’t include your idea in the initial conversation, you get an honest opinion. Don’t mention your idea too soon and use it to steer the “Is this a good idea?” conversation. When you use the Mom Test right, they won’t even realize you have an idea, but you can collect the requisite answers.
Once you understand the Mom Test. It comes down to devising questions. This is where the notion of “Good and Bad Questions” comes into the picture. You can’t ask the wrong questions and expect insightful answers. Specific bad questions include:
a) “Do you think it’s a good idea?”
b) “Would you pay X amount for Product Y?”
c) “Would you buy a product that does X?”
These are awful questions because only the market can tell you if your idea is good. Everything else is just an opinion. And for you, opinions are worthless. Anything involving the future is an over-optimistic lie. People will lie to you when they believe you know what you want to hear. You need to ask questions that attempt to understand what you can do to solve problems your consumer is already aware of. Find out which issues matter and which don’t. It is essential to understand that people will always complain but may not be ready to pay to solve specific problems. You need to talk through what happened and how they solved the problems they faced. If they haven’t looked for ways to solve it, they probably won’t look into or buy yours.
Good questions surround what you should build. Consumers own the problem. You own and get to choose how to solve the problem. Moreover, people want to help you, so it’s always great to ask questions like:
a) “Gosh, that must be tough. How did you overcome problem X?”
b) “Is there anything else I should have asked?
c) “Who should I talk to next?”
d) “Talk me through the last time you faced problem X.”
Through consumer conversations, you must ensure that you are avoiding the bad data. You must be seeking facts and commitment, never compliments and promises. Bad data can give you false positives and negatives.
The three main types:
Entrepreneurs are drowning in ideas, but you must never blindly try to add all the features/ desires that you hear of during your customer conversations. When you’re applying the Mom Test and asking questions, dig beneath the surface of the idea and ask the right questions. When you hear a request, it’s your job to understand the motivations behind the same. Dig around emotional signals and find the root cause.
For example, if you’re talking to someone about an idea that you’ve had regarding a scheduling app, and mid-conversation this idea drops:
Them: “Are you guys going to be able to sync to Excel?”
You shouldn’t immediately note this down and add it to your to-do list. That’s the fast lane to feature-creep. Instead, ask the right questions and try to understand why they want such a feature to be there.
You: “What would syncing to Excel allow you to do?”
Questions to dig into feature requests:
Questions to dig into emotional signals:
How to deal with them
1. Deflect compliments and avoid them by not mentioning your idea. Get on with trying to accumulate facts and commitments. Try to get in on the compliments instead of jumping to the conclusion that they like your product
2. Acknowledge that Fluff usually comes in three forms –
a. Generic claims (I usually, I always, I never)
b. Future tense promises (I would, I will)
c. Hypothetical maybes (I might, I could)
Never mistaken fluff for commitment. Distinguish complainers from customers. Dig beneath the complaints and understand why they want what they want.
3. Stop seeking approval because you expose your ego when you seek approval, thus forcing people to believe that they ought to protect you by saying nice things. Stop adding, “would you like this, …do you think it will work? Is this a good idea? Would you pay for my idea?” when conversing and trying to research. Keep the focus of the conversation on the other person rather than the ideas you sought approval of.
4. Cut off Pitches as they look like you are demanding compliments and approval. If you start pitching, pause, recognize it, and apologize.
5. Talk less and stop trying to fix their understanding of your idea, and let them talk.
Once you hear about the Mom test – don’t overcompensate with the questions by asking trivial ones. You have to apply the Mom Test to the questions that matter. Imagine the company failing and succeeding when you ask questions. You can tell it is an important question when the answer could completely change your business.
Asking essential questions is challenging because of the possible realization that our favourite idea is fundamentally flawed or that a significant customer may never purchase. Bad news is solid learning and helps you get on the right path. Better you hear it earlier than later after you’ve spent thousands on it. Never ignore bad news.
You need to resolve and acknowledge the scary questions, even if that means risking your business and recognizing the elephant in the room – the potential flaws and problems in your idea.
When you are conversing, you must always treat people’s time respectfully and like you are genuinely trying to solve their problems. This helps turn cold conversations into warm introductions. The idea of unexpected interviews may seem weird, but that’s only when you think of it as an interview rather than a discussion. If it’s a topic you and the other party care about, find an excuse to talk about it. Immerse yourself in this community and go the extra mile to be around them.
Creating warm introductions can be challenging, so try to use the fact that the world is a small place and that everyone knows someone, make use of industry advisors, converse with professors of universities, investors are always a great option, call in the favours with everyone that had offered to help when they heard your idea.
Don’t go into these conversations searching for customers. Go into them trying to find advisors, helpful knowledge people who are excited about your idea, and customer advisors. Keep having these conversations until you stop hearing new stuff.
There are several ways you can initiate a conversation with customers, investors, and advisors. These include:
1. Cold Calls – You may face rejection/ lack of enthusiasm, and unless you are planning to sell your idea via cold calls, the rejection rate is irrelevant.
2. Seizing Serendipity– People love talking about their problems, and it’s okay to try to learn about them outside the boardroom. You don’t even have to mention that you have an idea, just have a good conversation.
3. Find a Good Excuse– If it’s a topic you and the other party care about, find an excuse to talk about it. Your idea never needs to enter the equation.
4. Immerse yourself in where they are – Go to conferences, meetings and sessions where you think your customer segment will be present in large numbers, and immerse yourself in this learning experience.
The next important step is to choose your customers. To succeed, avoid drowning in a multiplicity of options and make faster progress by indulging in good customer segmentation. Before you can serve everyone, know that you have to start by serving someone. There is no way you can pitch the same thing to everyone. You also cannot say yes to every request and serve everyone. If you aren’t finding consistent problems and goals, you haven’t really found your specific customer segment yet. Once you find your segment, keep slicing off better and better sub-sets. Within these, locate who is profitable, easy to reach, and rewarding for us to build a business around. Focus on your identified demographic and then study existing behaviours. Get in touch with those accessible and fun for you to be around. Ensure you’re not talking to the wrong people. If your business relies on a specific partner, for example, schools, get in touch with the right people, such as teachers, administration, and staff. Don’t just talk to the senior people you meet; converse with actual representatives of the users and consumers.
Once you have identified your questions as well as your customers and worked on your skills to ensure you collect good data through good questions, it is time to run the process. Start by doing your bit of research and work to extract value from these conversations.
When all the customer learning is stuck in someone’s head rather than disseminated to the rest of the team, you’ve got a learning bottleneck. Avoid creating or being the bottleneck. This has three main parts:
1. Prepping - Prep questions to unearth hidden risks such as “If this company were to fail, why would it have happened?” and “What would have to be true for this to be a huge success?” You don’t need long strategic answers to these questions; your gut answer is enough. Be prepared to stay on course by evaluating and predetermining the various potential answers, so you have a list of responses ready.
2. Reviewing -Everyone on the team involved in making big decisions must attend at least a few of these meetings. Meetings go best when you have at least two people at them. You don’t always have to be the one talking or presenting, but ensure you never outsource the customer learning, do it yourself.
3. Taking Down Notes -Taking notes is the best way to keep your team in the loop. Try to write down exact quotes, wrap them in quotation marks, and later use them in your marketing languages, fundraising decks, and resolve arguments with sceptical teammates. All you need to be trying to figure out is what you want to learn from the other part. After conversations, review your notes and update the team. Learning shouldn’t just be on paper. Evaluate which questions worked and which didn’t and understand how you can do better next time
Talking to customers is a tool, not an obligation. Keep track of how the conversation is slowing, and look out for these problems:
Before you start a conversation with anyone, it can be helpful to go through this list of processes:
Conclusively, remember that this is a learning process. It will take an abundance of effort and trial and error before you learn which of the questions you’ve framed are good and are working for you. You will have several meetings and experiences during which each pointer given in this book will come back to you. Soon, you will catch yourself when you’re slipping into pitch-mode and beginning to seek approval. At the end of the day, everyone knows that people love start-ups, and they support the entrepreneur. They want you and the start-up to succeed, so use this to your benefit. Have the requisite conversations and ask the questions to fix flaws before they get you in to trouble. And even if it still doesn’t work out, it’s imperative to know that sometimes our ideas don’t work out, which is okay. That is when you need to go to the people who supported you and believed in your product and thank them.
When we have new ideas, it is an exciting process. It’s easy to spend hours obsessively geeking out about the exact right things you want to execute .While the process is valuable, don’t get stuck in it.
If it all sounds a little too overwhelming, then we, Sparklehood, can help. We will make sure that you are able to get the right data for your startup and are able to make sense of that data too. It is a painful process to look for the right people for feedback, but worry not we have that covered too with our Angel Investor and Startup Communities. Fix a meeting with us to know more of the help which we can provide.
Rule of thumb: It is going to be okay.