The Mom Test

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 measure of usefulness of an early customer conversation is whether it gives us concrete facts about our customers’ lives and world views.

We find out if people care about what we’re doing by never mentioning it. Instead, we talk about them and their lives.

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…

…only the market can tell if your idea is good. Everything else is just opinion.

Rule of thumb: Opinions are worthless.

Rule of thumb: Anything involving the future is an over-optimistic lie.

Rule of thumb: People will lie to you if they think it’s what you want to hear.

Rule of thumb: People know what their problems are, but they don’t know how to solve those problems.

Rule of thumb: You’re shooting blind until you understand their goals.

Rule of thumb: Some problems don’t actually matter.

Rule of thumb: Watching someone do a task will show you where the problems and inefficiencies really are, not where the customer thinks they are.

What are they using now? How much does it cost and what do they love or hate about it? How much would those fixes be worth and how traumatic would it be for them to switch to a new solution?

Rule of thumb: If they haven’t looked for ways of solving it already, they’re not going to look for (or buy) yours.

Rule of thumb: People stop lying when you ask them for money.

Rule of thumb: While it’s rare for someone to tell you precisely what they’ll pay you, they’ll often show you what it’s worth to them.

Rule of thumb: People want to help you. Give them an excuse to do so.

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.

You want facts and commitments, not compliments.

Rule of thumb: Compliments are the fool’s gold of customer learning: shiny, distracting, and worthless.

When someone starts talking about what they “always” or “usually” or “never” or “would” do, they are giving you generic and hypothetical fluff.

While using generics, people describe themselves as who they want to be, not who they actually are. You need to get specific to bring out the edge cases.

When you hear a request, it’s your job to understand the motivations which led to it.

“Whoops—I just slipped into pitch mode. I’m really sorry about that—I get excited about these things. Can we jump back to what you were just saying? You were telling me that…”

Rule of thumb: Anyone will say your idea is great if you’re annoying enough about it.

Rule of thumb: The more you’re talking, the worse you’re doing.

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

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

Rule of thumb: You always need a list of your 3 big questions.

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

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

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

You’ve lost the meeting when you leave with a compliment or a stalling tactic.

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

The major currencies are time, reputation risk, and cash.

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

Rule of thumb: It’s not a real lead until you’ve given them a concrete chance to reject you.

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

Rule of thumb: If it’s not a formal meeting, you don’t need to make excuses about why you’re there or even mention that you’re starting a business. Just ask about their life.

Willpower is a finite resource. The way to overcome difficult situations isn’t to power through, but rather to change your circumstances to require less willpower.

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

Before we can serve everyone, we have to serve someone.

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.

Rule of thumb: Notes are useless if you don’t look at them.