The Mom Test
The Mom Test
My notes on "The Mom Test" by Rob Fitzpatrick. It's called the Mom Test because it leads to questions that even your mom couldn't lie to you about.


  1. Ask good questions.
  2. Avoid bad data.
  3. Keep it casual.
  4. Push for commitment and advancement.
  5. Frame the meeting well.
  6. Focus on the right, tight, customer segment.
  7. Prep well, take good notes, review your notes.

Update 2

Doing Mom-test and customer development remotely:

Update 1

This comment on Hacker News mentions a similar book "The Right It" by Alberto Savoia. He mentions 8 ways to test an idea:

  1. The Pretend-to-Own – Before investing in buying whatever you need for your it, rent or borrow it first.
  2. The Pinocchio – Build a non-functional, “lifeless”, version of the product.
  3. The Fake Door – Create a fake “entry” for a product that doesn't yet exist in any form
  4. The Minimum Viable Product (or Stripped Tease) – Create a functional version of it, but stripped down to its most basic functionality.
  5. The Mechanical Turk – Replace complex and expensive computers or machines with human beings.
  6. The Provincial – Before launching world-wide, run a test on a very small sample.
  7. The Re-label – Put a different label on an existing product that looks like the product you want to create.

Rob Fitzpatrick responds to this comment with more thoughts and links to this comment.

Chapter 1 - Opinions are worthless

Anything involving the future is an overly optimistic lie. You want objective facts about what happened in the past.

  1. Find out if people care about your idea by never mentioning it.
  2. Forcing yourself not to mention your idea will force you to ask better questions
  3. Make sure your questions pass the mom test:
    • Talk about their lives, not your idea.
    • Ask about specific objective events in the past, not hypothetical scenarios.
    • Spend most of your time listening, not talking.

Chapter 2 - Avoid bad data

  • You aren't allowed to tell them what their problem is.
  • They aren't allowed to tell you what to build.

Bad data includes:

  1. Compliments
  2. Fluff
  3. Hypotheticals
  4. Ideas

Chapter 3 - Ask the important questions

You should be terrified of at least one of the questions you ask in each conversation.

  1. Search out the scary questions you've been unintentionally avoiding. What's the worst thing a prospect could say? What's the scariest question you could ask?
  2. A good way to find scary questions is to imagine that your company has failed and then to ask why.
  3. If you get an unexpected answer to one of your questions and it doesn't have any effect on what you're going to do, then was it really worth asking it?
  4. General advice for hard things includes asking hard questions. Imagine you were delegating the task, what would you tell the person to do? That's you.
  5. You can ask about money.
  6. Love bad news - if you find out that your idea is fundamentally flawed you've just saved a tonne of time and energy and money. Move on. It's getting you closer to the truth.
  7. Bad news isn't the result of an opinion. No one knows if your idea will work, only the market knows.
  8. Opinions don't count.
  9. A lukewarm response to your idea can be a great conversation, because you realise that your idea isn't a great idea. Lukewarm means they don't care enough to buy the first (worst) version before it's ready.
  10. Look before you zoom. Don't focus on details too soon, you need to understand the big picture first.
  11. You have product risk and customer risk: 11. Product risk - can I build it and grow it? 12. Customer risk - is there a big enough group of people who are going to buy it?
  12. Pre-plan a list of the 3 most important questions (including a scary one) before every meeting or conversation. Be ready with these. They should change from week to week. As you get good quality answers to existing questions you can bring in new questions.

Chapter 4 - Keep it casual

** Problem -> Solution -> Sales **

  1. Normally you would have 3 meetings with a client when you make a big sale. This lets you do each stage really well without blurring the data:
    1. Identify your prospect's problem
    2. Explain your solution
    3. Sell the solution
  2. Identifying a problem doesn't have to be a meeting, keep it casual and you will get more honest feedback much faster. It works better as a chat when people are relaxed and saying what they really think.
  3. It take 5 minutes (max) to identify if a problem exists and is important.

Give as little info as possible about your idea whilst still nudging the conversation along

Chapter 5 - The currencies of conversation

In early stage sales, the main goal is learning. Money is a side-effect.

Will they spend money, time, or reputation on your solution?

  1. If someone is willing to risk reputation, or spend time or money on your idea, then you can believe that they're interested.
  2. Hearing a compliment means they're trying to get rid of you.
  3. If it's a bad meeting or you're not sure what they really think, push for a commitment of some kind. Ask them to spend time, reputation or money and you'll see what they really think.
  4. If they aren't excited (not just interested, but in pain and excited for your solution) then you need to find that out ASAP. It's still a good meeting if you can discover this.
  5. Are you offering pain relief medication?
  6. A lead isn't a real lead until you've given them a concrete chance to reject you.
  7. Ask learning questions by using the Mom Test, then confirm by selling it.
  8. You need crazy customers:
    1. They have a painful and expensive problem
    2. They know they have a painful and expensive problem
    3. They have the money to pay you to solve it
    4. They already have their own bad solution to this terrible problem, and yours is clearly better
  9. A crazy customer doesn't say "yeah that's great, I'm really interested, let me know when its ready". They say "AHHH THIS IS THE WORST PART OF MY LIFE AND I WILL PAY YOU RIGHT NOW TO FIX IT!"
  10. A crazy customer will front you the money when all you have is a barely functional prototype made of duct-tape
  11. A crazy customer is the person reading you blog, searching for workarounds, when you haven't spent loads of marketing and lead generation
  12. Keep a crazy customer close - they'll stick with you when times are tough.

Chapter 6 - Finding good conversations

Vision -> Framing -> Weakness -> Pedestal -> Ask

Keep having conversations until you stop hearing new stuff.

  1. If it's a topic you both care about, find an excuse. You'll both enjoy the chat. You don't need to mention your idea if it breaks the premise.
  2. Warm introductions are the ideal way to start a new conversation. 6 degrees of freedom in the world, so find someone who knows someone who knows them.
  3. Cold calls - LinkedIn, maybe.
  4. Serendipity - be prepared, be bold.
  5. Have a good excuse - hustle.
  6. Landing pages - so that googling the problems brings them to you.
  7. Organise an event - bring the businesses together for an event. You'll be considered an expert because you're facilitating it.
  8. Become a subject matter expert
  9. Speaking and teaching engagements - you get to have strong opinions, and you'll be respected.

Chapter 7 - Choosing you customers

  1. Startups don't starve, they drown. In options, choices, ideas. You get overwhelmed.
  2. Choose a good customer segment, focus on it, and don't get distracted.
  3. In the beginning:
    1. Google - PhD students.
    2. PayPal - eBay.
    3. Evernote - Moms with recipes.
  4. It will look obvious with hindsight, probably not so obvious before you've figured it out.
  5. If you can't get a consistent answer to a question, maybe you're speaking to different segments.
  6. If you aren't finding consistent problems and goals then you don't have a specific enough customer segment. 7. Within the group, which type of person would want it the most? 8. Would everyone within the group want to buy/use it? Or only some? 9. Why does the subset want it? 10. Does everyone in the group have the same motivation? 11. What other motivations are there? 12. Who else (outside the group) has these motivations?
  7. Go for Who-Where pairs of segments. "Finance professionals who run marathons"..
  8. You want customers who are reachable, profitable, and personally rewarding.

Good segments are usually "who-where" pairs. If you don't know where to find your customers, keep slicing until you do. Make sure the segment is reachable, profitable, and personally rewarding

Chapter 8 - Getting the most from the conversations by prepping and reviewing

  1. Prepare well 2. Have your three big questions ready, including the scary ones. 3. Know who you are speaking to. 4. Know what commitment and next-steps you want to push for. 5. Spend up to an hour writing down: 1. Your best guesses about what you think they'll say. 2. What they care about. 3. What they want.

    • If you have a focussed segment, you'll only need to do this occasionally.
    • If you come across a question which can be answered using the internet, use the internet.
  2. Take good notes 4. Ask if you can record the audio. 6. Record emotions as well as words. Verbatim alone isn't always accurate 6 months later. 5. Use shorthand for follow up. 5. Observe and record emotions - happy, angry, meh, etc. 6. Pains and obstacles are a lot more important if someone is embarrassed or angry when they're talking about them. 7. Dig into the big emotions, find out what's causing them, or why its a big deal.

  3. Review your notes 8. Meta - which questions went well or not? 9. What were the answers to the scary questions? 10. How can you do better next time? 11. What were the clear signals? What signals did you miss?