The Mom Test - You CAN handle the truth!
Rob Fitzpatrick wrote a book called 'The Mom Test', which explains how to get honest and useful feedback from anyone - even your mom, who doesn't want to hurt your feelings.
People say that you should never ask your mom about whether your business idea is good, and that's true. But the real truth is, you shouldn't ask anyone whether your business idea is good - or atleast not directly.
That question invites people to lie to you - when your responsibility is to uncover the truth. You do that by asking good questions.
What you want is to gather is concrete facts about your customers lives and world views. This is what will allow you to improve your business.
And you do that by never talking about your idea. This may seem weird, but that's how you start asking better questions, and finding out what people care about. You talk about them and their lives.
The Mom Test:
1. Talk about their life instead of your idea
2. Ask about specifics in the past instead of generics or opinions about the future
3. Talk less and listen more
It's called The Mom Test because it leads to questions even your mom can't lie to you about. If you do it properly, the person you're speaking to won't even know you have an idea.
Here is are examples from the book:
  • "Do you think it's a good idea?"
Bad question. Only the market can tell if your idea is good. Everything else is just opinion. Unless you’re talking to a deep industry expert, this is self-indulgent noise with a high risk of false positives.
Rule of thumb: Opinions are worthless.
  • "Would you buy a product which did X?"
Bad question. You’re asking for opinions and hypotheticals from overly optimistic people who want to make you happy. The answer to a question like this is almost always “yes”, which makes it worthless.
Rule of thumb: Anything involving the future is an over-optimistic lie.
  • "How much would you pay for X?"
Bad question. This is exactly as bad as the last one, except it’s more likely to trick you because the number makes it feel rigorous and truthy.
Rule of thumb: People will lie to you if they think it’s what you want to hear.
  • "What would your dream product do?"
Sort-of-okay question, but only if you ask good follow-ups. Otherwise it’s a bad question. A question like this is like the “set” before the spike in a volleyball game: not too helpful on its own, but it puts you in a good position as long as you’re ready to exploit it.
Rule of thumb: People know what their problems are, but they don’t know how to solve those problems.
  • "Why do you bother?"
Good question. I love this sort of question. It’s great for getting from the perceived problem to the real one.
Rule of thumb: You're shooting blind until you understand their goals.
  • "What are the implications of that?"
Good question. This distinguishes between I-will-pay-to-solve-that problems and thats-kind-of-annoying-but-I-can-deal-with-it “problems”. Some problems have big, costly implications. Others exist but don’t actually matter. It behooves you to find out which is which. It also gives you a good pricing signal.
Rule of thumb: Some problems don’t actually matter.
  • "Who else should I talk to?"
Good question. End every conversation like this. Lining up the first few conversations can be challenging, but if you’re onto something interesting and treating people well, your leads will quickly multiply via intros.
That's just some of them! This mindset is crucial when your goal is to build something people actually want. Finding the truth is a delicate art, and an important skill in any business - especially for a SaaS founder.
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Robert Boulos
The Mom Test - You CAN handle the truth!
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