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The Customer Is Always Right
Before investing in a start-up, you need to speak with customers. It’s important to ask the right questions and listen carefully so that you hear what they’re really saying. If your business idea is not viable, it will be obvious through customer conversations. Don’t just ask your friends or family members for their opinions—they won’t give you an honest answer because they don’t want to hurt your feelings.
Don’t mention your idea too soon. Instead, learn about the prospect’s problems and how they currently solve them. Find out what it costs them to do so and whether there are other ways to solve their problem. Then, ask them for a typical flow of work and learn more about their processes, approaches and sticking points.
Beware Positive Feedback
Positive feedback from potential customers is seductive. They may shade the truth because they want to be supportive and to validate your idea. If you recognize that you’re receiving kudos (“That’s really cool. I love it.”), drill deeper; ask for facts and information about their needs, problems, etc., that are being solved by your product or service.
You should ask questions because positive feedback does not indicate whether the customer is committed to making a purchase. People who say they would buy something are less likely to actually do so when it comes time to make the purchase. Asking if they would buy your product is pointless, as anything can happen in the future.
People will spare your feelings if you show some vulnerability. They’ll avoid saying something that may make you feel bad about an issue that’s important to you. Entrepreneurs such as Gordon Ramsey, Elon Musk and Reid Hoffman are known for soliciting negative feedback because they know it’s necessary to improve their products or services. However, most people don’t need to be so open about getting critical input from others.
When trying to get approval for an idea, don’t be pushy or a pest. It’s annoying and counterproductive. Instead, let the other person drive the conversation by asking open-ended questions that will allow him/her to speak freely about what he/she wants. Letting them talk without interruption is more likely to yield results than you pitching your idea over and over again until they say yes.
Let customers do most of the talking. Let them communicate in their own way and don’t interrupt unless you have a really good reason. Don’t try to change what they say or reframe it, just let them use their own terminology and language. This is an opportunity to see things from another person’s perspective and learn something about how they view the world.
Bad News Is Good News
It’s important to ask the right questions when you’re formulating a plan. You hope for answers that confirm your idea is good or bad. Unanticipated responses are sometimes very helpful, because they let you know if your ideas are flawed before you invest time and money into them. It’s better to find out about flaws in your plans before it’s too late, so people whose opinions matter can give their input on whether something will be successful or not. The only way to know how well an idea will do is by putting it out there and seeing what happens with the market
If people respond to your ideas with lukewarm reactions, you may be disappointed. However, this indicates that they’re not as interested in them as you’d like. To gain more information about why, ask what specifically turned them off. Regardless of the reaction’s intensity or lack thereof, always say “thank you” and move on. If you feel uncomfortable asking questions about obvious issues, try addressing some potential problems beforehand to avoid confronting them later on down the line. For example, if a school is impoverished and can’t afford to pay for your services because it uses its limited funds elsewhere instead (e.g., buying new textbooks), then address that issue before presenting your idea so that teachers will know upfront how much they’ll have to spend in order for their students’ learning experience to improve.