"The Mom Test" is a book written by Rob Fitzpatrick that provides guidance on how founders can effectively validate startup ideas by actively listening to potential customers (instead of guessing what they want). Their tagline sums it up perfectly: “How to talk to customers & learn if your business is a good idea when everyone is lying to you!”
Here’s an additional summary from their Amazon page:
"They say you shouldn't ask your mom whether your business is a good idea, because she loves you and will lie to you. This is technically true, but it misses the point. You shouldn't ask anyone if your business is a good idea. It's a bad question and everyone will lie to you at least a little. As a matter of fact, it's not their responsibility to tell you the truth. It's your responsibility to find it and it's worth doing right."
"Talking to customers is one of the foundational skills of both Customer Development and Lean Startup. We all know we're supposed to do it, but nobody seems willing to admit that it's easy to screw up and hard to do right. This book is going to show you how customer conversations go wrong and how you can do better."
It’s one of our all time favorite books, and we highly recommend it to anyone who is building early stage products! But it also feels really relevant to the interview process -- specifically if/when you’re at the final stages of interviews with an early stage company, and want to make sure that they have what it takes to be successful!
We decided to summarize the key principles from "The Mom Test", in hopes that you’ll be able to use them during your job search and going into the future!
The Principles from The Mom Test:
📣 Listen and don't pitch: When talking to potential customers, it's crucial to listen more than you talk. Avoid falling into the trap of pitching your idea; instead, focus on learning from their experiences, challenges, and needs. This allows you to refine your idea and better address the market demand
🗣️ Talk about their life instead of your idea: Instead of pitching your idea to potential customers, focus on understanding their problems, needs, and experiences. This helps you gather genuine insights about the market and whether your idea solves a real problem. Ex: Don’t ask “would you use an iPad app for cookbooks?” Instead ask: Do you use cookbooks? Which ones, how often, etc.
🔎 Identify their actions, not opinions: Rather than asking customers what they think about your idea, ask about their past behavior or actions related to the problem your idea aims to solve. Actions provide more reliable information than opinions, helping you understand real-world needs and challenges. Ex: can you tell me about a time you used a cookbook recently?
🎯 Focus on specific situations: Generic questions can yield vague and unhelpful answers. Instead, ask about specific situations or instances where customers have encountered the problem. Ex: what is the last cookbook you bought, when and why?
⚠️ Avoid confirmation bias: Instead of asking leading questions that seek validation, focus on uncovering the truth by asking open-ended questions and actively listening to the responses. People often want to be polite and supportive, which can lead to misleading positive feedback.
🐾 Look for patterns, not one-off feedback: Gathering feedback from a diverse range of customers is important, but it's equally crucial to identify patterns and recurring themes in their responses. By recognizing consistent feedback, you can make informed decisions about the viability and direction of your idea.
🏠 Iterate and adapt: Treat customer conversations as an iterative process. Continuously refine your questions, hypotheses, and understanding based on the insights you gather. Adapt your idea based on feedback and keep iterating until you find a product-market fit.
💚 Here are some green flags that indicate a founder is following the principles outlined in "The Mom Test":
🟢 They actively listen: Founders who follow the Mom Test principles (We’ll call them Green flag founders!) prioritize listening over talking. They listen attentively to the responses of potential customers, showing genuine interest in understanding their perspectives.
🤔 Think: Do you feel like they actually listened to you during the interview? Or did they just talk at you?
🟢 They ask open-ended questions: Rather than seeking validation for their idea, Green flag founders ask questions that encourage potential customers to share their experiences, challenges, and needs openly.
🤔 Think: Do they seem to be answering their own questions during the interview?
🟢 They maintain empathy and humility: Green flag founders approach conversations with empathy and humility. They genuinely care about understanding their customers' & employees perspectives and are willing to adapt and evolve based on what they learn.
🤔 Think: Did you sense arrogance? Or was it more curiosity?
🟢 They value learning: Green flag founders try to see each conversation with a customer, employee, etc as an opportunity to gather insights, refine their understanding, and improve their offering.
🤔 Think: Do you feel like you both learned something new after the call?
🚩Here are some red flags that indicate a founder may not be following the principles outlined in "The Mom Test", and maybe should be avoided as a future employer:
🔴 They focus on selling their idea: Instead of genuinely seeking feedback and understanding customer needs, Red flag founders primarily use customer conversations as an opportunity to pitch their idea and convince potential customers of its value.
🤔 Think: Do they speak in a way that is dynamic/interactive, or is it like they are talking into the ether at whoever will listen?
🔴 They ask leading questions: Rather than asking open-ended and neutral questions, Red flag founders ask questions that steer the conversation towards the response they want to hear, seeking validation for their idea rather than honest feedback.
🤔 Think: Did their pitch have the right amount of confidence for their stage? Or was it too confident given the number of customers they have?
🔴 They lack curiosity: Red flag founders predominantly focus on discussing their own idea and fail to show genuine interest in understanding the customer's life, challenges, and experiences. They miss out on valuable insights that could inform their product or service development.
🤔 Think: Do they seem to know who their customer is and what their challenges are?
🔴 They are defensive: When faced with new learnings that may invalidate their prior assumptions, Red flag founders can become defensive or dismissive instead of using it as an opportunity to learn and improve their idea.
🤔 Think: Did their pitch include some humble learnings? Or was it aggressively optimistic?
Hopefully these prompts can help you determine if the founder you’re speaking with is a person you’d want to work for. It’s a really great book and worth a read!