Book: The Mom Test, Rob Fitzpatrick

The Mom Test


Talking to potential customers about your idea is not enough. You need to ask the right questions, the right way to get relevant answers. Great book, re-read it once already. Should’ve taken the advice in the book to heart for at least one of our projects.

Start from Zero which I reviewed a few weeks ago has very similar concepts. The main difference being The Mom Test is focused on the customer interviews and it’s written much better.


Ask about the customer’s life (problems, cares, constraints, goals), not about the idea. With requests, you need to find the root cause. Get commitments to the next step. Keep having conversations until you stop hearing new stuff. If you aren’t finding consistent problems, you don’t have a specific enough segment. Avoid receiving compliments. Talk less.


  • Bad customer conversations aren’t just useless. Worse, they convince you that you’re on the right path.
  • Mom was unable to lie to us because we never talked about our idea.
  • The Mom Test:
    • Talk about their life instead of your idea
    • Ask about specifics in the past instead of generics or opinions about the future
    • Talk less and listen more
  • Good question / bad question
  • Whenever possible, you want to be shown, not told by your customers. Learn through their actions instead of their opinions.
  • The questions to ask are about your customers’ lives: their problems, cares, constraints, and goals.
  • It boils down to this: you aren’t allowed to tell them what their problem is, and in return, they aren’t allowed to tell you what to build. They own the problem, you own the solution.
  • You want facts and commitments, not compliments.
  • When someone starts talking about what they “always” or “usually” or “never” or “would” do, they are giving you generic and hypothetical fluff.
  • Ask when it last happened, for them to talk you through it, how they solved it, and what else they tried.
  • To get toward this truth, you just need to reject their generic claims, incidental complaints, and fluffy promises.
  • When you hear a request, it’s your job to understand the motivations which led to it. You do that by digging around the question to find the root cause.
  • Questions to dig into feature requests:
  • Questions to dig into emotional signals:
  • Rule of thumb: If you’ve mentioned your idea, people will try to protect your feelings.
  • Rule of thumb: The more you’re talking, the worse you’re doing.
  • You can tell it’s an important question when the answer to it could completely change (or disprove) your business.
  • Every time you talk to someone, you should be asking a question which has the potential to completely destroy your currently imagined business.
  • Rule of thumb: You should be terrified of at least one of the questions you’re asking in every conversation.
  • Rule of thumb: There’s more reliable information in a “meh” than a “Wow!” You can’t build a business on a lukewarm response.
  • Most people have lots of problems which they don’t actually care enough about to fix, but which they’ll happily tell you the details of if you ask them.
  • Product risk — Can I build it? Can I grow it? Will they keep using it?
  • Market risk — Do they want it? Will they pay? Are there enough of them?
  • Always pre-plan the 3 most important things you want to learn from any given type of person.
  • Decide what to ask with your team in a calm environment.
  • Learning about a customer and their problems works better as a quick and casual chat than a long, formal meeting.
  • Rule of thumb: If it feels like they’re doing you a favour by talking to you, it’s probably too formal.
  • It only takes 5 minutes to learn whether a problem exists and is important. Learning how someone currently achieves a certain goal or solves a problem is also quick.
  • Rule of thumb: Give as little information as possible about your idea while still nudging the discussion in a useful direction.
  • In sales, moving a sales relationship to the next stage is called “advancement”.
  • Commitment — They are showing they’re serious by giving up something they value such as time, reputation, or money.
  • Advancement — They are moving to the next step of your real-world funnel and getting closer to a sale.
  • A meeting has succeeded when it ends with a commitment to advance to the next step.
  • The real failure is listed above as #2: not even asking.
  • Rule of thumb: If you don’t know what happens next after a product or sales meeting, the meeting was pointless.
  • Commitment can be cash, but doesn’t have to be.
  • The major currencies are time, reputation risk, and cash.
  • The worst meetings are the wishy-washy ones that you leave with neither rejection nor advancement.
  • A lost meeting can often be saved by just pushing for a commitment at the end while you’re being brushed off with a compliment.
  • Rule of thumb: It’s not a real lead until you’ve given them a concrete chance to reject you.
  • The goal of cold conversations is to stop having them. You hustle together the first one or two from wherever you can, and then, if you treat people’s time respectfully and are genuinely trying to solve their problem, those cold conversations start turning into warm intros.
  • What can you offer them that will make them want to talk to you?
    • Organise meetups
      • Want to figure out the problems HR professionals have? Organise an event called “HR professionals happy hour”.
    • Speaking & teaching
  • Warm intros are the goal. Conversations are infinitely easier when you get an intro through a mutual friend that establishes your credibility and reason for being there.
  • Our 5 advisors each had around a half percent of equity and basically just made credible intros.

Asking for and framing the meeting

  • The framing format I like has 5 key elements.
    • You’re an entrepreneur trying to solve horrible problem X, usher in wonderful vision Y, or fix stagnant industry Z. Don’t mention your idea.
    • Frame expectations by mentioning what stage you’re at and, if it’s true, that you don’t have anything to sell.
    • Show weakness and give them a chance to help by mentioning your specific problem that you’re looking for answers on. This will also clarify that you’re not a time waster.
    • Put them on a pedestal by showing how much they, in particular, can help.
    • Ask for help.
  • In shorter form: Vision / Framing / Weakness / Pedestal / Ask
  • Here’s what it might look like before you have a product:
  • These conversations are easy to screw up. As such, you need to be the one in control. You set the agenda, you keep it on topic, and you propose next
  • In terms of mindset, don’t go into these discussions looking for customers. It creates a needy vibe and forfeits the position of power. Instead, go in search of industry and customer advisors.
  • Rule of thumb: Keep having conversations until you stop hearing new stuff.


  • If you start too generic, everything is watered down. Your marketing message is generic. You suffer feature creep.
  • Before we can serve everyone, we have to serve someone.
  • But making a so-so product for a bunch of audiences isn’t quite the same as making an incredible product for one.
  • In these cases, talking to an industry expert can be hugely informative to provide you with a taxonomy of the industry.
  • Rule of thumb: If you aren’t finding consistent problems and goals, you don’t yet have a specific enough customer segment.

Customer slicing

  • This drilling down into ever more specific groups is called Customer Slicing. You take a segment and then keep slicing off better and better sub-sets of it until you’ve got a tangible sense of who you can go talk to and where you can find them.
  • A customer segment isn’t very useful if there’s no way you can get in touch!
  • Once we know a group’s existing behaviours, it’s incredibly easy to get in touch with them.
  • Rule of thumb: Good customer segments are a who-where pair. If you don’t know where to go to find your customers, keep slicing your segment into smaller pieces until you do.
  • Avoiding bottlenecks has three parts: prepping, reviewing, and taking good notes.
  • Prepping
    • Your most important preparation work is to ensure you know your current list of 3 big questions.
    • Spend up to an hour writing down your best guesses about what the person you’re about to talk to cares about and wants.
    • While prepping, if you come across a question which could be answered with desk research, take a moment to do it. You want to move past the obvious stuff and spend your conversations finding answers the internet can’t give you.
    • If you leave part of the company out of the prep, then you end up missing their concerns in the customer conversations.
    • “If this company fails, what is most likely to have killed it?”
    • “What would have to be true for this to be a huge success?”
  • Reviewing
    • After a conversation, just review your notes with your team and update your beliefs and 3 big questions as appropriate.
    • The goal is to ensure the learning is now on paper and in everyone’s head instead of just in yours.