The Mom Test Summary and Review

by Rob Fitzpatrick
Has The Mom Test by Rob Fitzpatrick been sitting on your reading list? Pick up the key ideas in the book with this quick summary. If you've ever had a new idea for a business, you've likely sought out feedback from your friends, family, potential investors, and customers before you actually get things started. So, you ask them, right? WRONG! Friends and family might conceal what they really think about your idea because they want to be encouraging, and investors might tell you they really like your idea just to get you to stop talking. So, how do you know if your business idea is actually good if everyone around you might be lying? Enter the Mom Test, a set of rules that will tell you whether people really think your idea is good or whether they’re like your mom: always supportive of everything you do. So, before you go squander your kids’ college funds on your new business idea, make sure you read this book summary carefully. In this summary of The Mom Test by Rob Fitzpatrick, you’ll learn
  • why making sure that you ask the right questions is so important;
  • why investors who “love” your idea are a bad sign; and
  • why talking over coffee will beat any meeting.

The Mom Test Key Idea #1: Ask the right kind of questions so that you can collect the most useful data about your idea and customer base.

An huge part of being a skilled entrepreneur is asking the right questions. This is because good questions are key in developing and advancing your idea. So, stop simply talking about your idea and start asking about it. Start by asking your potential customers about the problems they have and the types of solutions they’re searching for. This is a great way to see if you’re on the right track by offering them something they need. Imagine your target customer base has a problem with Excel, for example. If they might be able to find a cheap and effective way around their problem, then it might not be worth wasting time and money trying to come up with an alternative application for them. They won’t need it. You’ll also be able to collect the right type of data by asking the right questions. “Good” data is data that tells you what your customers are looking for and what they’re willing to pay for it. Let’s say you have an idea to make a paid app that will send daily recipes directly to stay-at-home moms. It wouldn’t be effective to merely ask some moms if they’d be interested in such an app. A more effective question would be to ask if they ever have trouble finding new recipes with a follow up question asking how they usually go about finding them. If they’re easily able to find recipes online, then they’re not going to be willing to pay for your app. That’s the kind of feedback you need. “Bad” data, on the other hand, does nothing but mislead you. When coworkers and friends tell you white lies or insincere compliments because they’re avoiding being rude, that’s simply bad data. They might also make vague statements about possibly investing in you in the future – don’t take these empty promises at face value.

The Mom Test Key Idea #2: Don’t look for compliments from investors, look for commitment.

Sometimes, you’ll pitch your business idea to potential investors or sponsors, and they’re simply not interested in it. If they’re just not going to invest in you, then you’re doing nothing but wasting both their time and your own. So, to make sure that you’re on the right track, learn to recognize the signs of a good or a bad meeting. There are a few tell-tale signs of a conversation gone bad. For example, while compliments seem positive on the outside, they’re usually a good indicator for disinterest. If someone compliments your idea, they’re likely just being polite so that they can avoid directly rejecting you. Giving compliments allows them to avoid the main subject of the conversation: investment. Truly, they’d rather get back to whatever they’re really interested in, and compliments are a nice way for them to get rid of you. If an investor is actually interested in your idea, though, he’ll make it clear by asking specific questions about your terms for the investment and what progress he might expect after investing. He’s going to want to hear as much as possible about the concrete details. Lots of young entrepreneurs take these compliments seriously, which is a huge mistake. They’ll often feel hopeful if a venture capitalist gushes over their idea or business plan. Luckily, there’s a great strategy to help you avoid this: focus your talks on commitment instead. Someone who’s truly interested in investing in your will be excited to commit. So be upfront: be clear about your expectations for first payments or deadlines for prototypes. And if they’re not ready to commit, they’ll be upfront with you, which will tell you that you don’t need to waste more time with them. And if they do commit, that’s great! It means your project is a go!

The Mom Test Key Idea #3: Focus on a small group of target customers.

Start-ups often hardly have a shortage of options and ideas. In fact, they usually have too many. If you try to tackle every possibility that comes to mind, you’ll likely end up drowning in a sea of projects and have nothing to show for it when it comes down to it. So, how do you avoid this? By focusing on a small group of target customers. Imagine you’re developing a fitness app, for example. You might think it’s a good idea to target specifically young men and women with high-paying jobs who have the goal of staying healthy and fit. However, this isn’t good enough. Your target group should actually be much smaller than that. Surveying too big of a variety of people could mean that their answers won’t actually provide you with meaningful feedback. This is why it’s important to go after a more specific group, like employed men age 18 to 25 training for a marathon next year. Men in this specific group would be looking for highly specialized training, and perhaps a diet plan that will help them to get ready for the marathon. They might get overwhelmed by simply looking online for information about diets since they don’t know who to trust. This is where you come in with your specific app that will help them exactly with this issue. Once you’ve figured out who you target group is, try getting to know them. Talk to them! Learn everything you can about what exactly they need. It’s impossible to simply select a target group and imagine what they might want. You have to get out there, find those aspiring marathon runners, and ask them how their training is going. It’s also important to remember that they might not need your app at all. They might be able to train just fine without an app, or even prefer personal trainers instead. On the other hand, they could need just the kind of service you want to provide. They might even be willing to pay for it. That’s the kind of data you need!

The Mom Test Key Idea #4: Look for opportunities to have some casual and relaxed “meetings” with potential customers and investors.

Many of us have had to sit through those awkward meetings that tend to drag on for hours, and lots of people would agree that these meetings simply aren’t productive. When you’re starting a business, you don’t want your discussions with potential customers to go the same way, so these are some strategies for keeping your meetings effective. First off, be casual. Let your conversation partner relax so that he’ll be able to open up about his feelings. Both customers and investors dread those meetings that feel like a waste of time, so make sure that you don’t bore them with formalities. Keep the formalities to a minimum and stay personable instead. Ask about their day, in addition to asking about their problems relevant to your product as well as their ideas for solving them. People will be more open and honest with you if they feel like you’re genuinely interested in what they have to say. They’ll feel better about sharing their true opinions. Sometimes you don’t even need a formal “meeting” to get valuable information from your prospective customers. It’s sometimes most valuable to go to the places they’re likely to be at anyway so that you can strike up some casual conversations. Perhaps you’re in the business of scheduling public speakers. Why not go to a conference for public speakers and ask some of them to get coffee with you? This is a great way to easily make contacts, and it’s a far more casual setting than scheduling a meeting a few months out. Casual and comfortable settings can make a huge difference in getting you the useful data you need. No one is going to open up about their opinions if they’re nervous. So, make sure that you don’t put anyone on the spot, and instead, talk to them normally. They’ll appreciate it and will be more likely to give you what you’re looking for in return.

In Review: The Mom Test Book Summary

The key message in this book: When it comes to your next brilliant business idea, bring it to life through asking the right questions. Don’t let compliments lead you astray – look for commitment instead. Make sure to choose a small and highly specific group for your target customer base and address them directly so that you can find out exactly what they need. Stay casual so they’ll be relaxed enough to open up to you. When you communicate sincerely, you’ll be able to respond to them with something truly meaningful. Actionable advice: Pick out your three most important questions. Proper preparation is key to having productive conversations with potential customers and sponsors. So, write out the three most important questions you have for them in advance. This ensures that you’ll get the information you need. Suggested further reading: The Lean Startup by Eric Ries The Lean Startup method helps start-ups and tech companies develop sustainable business models. It advocates continuous rapid prototyping and focusing on customer-feedback data. The method is based on the concepts of lean manufacturing and agile development, and its efficacy is backed up by case studies from the last few decades.