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 .
Good question. Bad question.
Are all questions good by nature, especially when you’re testing your idea? Let’s play a game. Answer if the following questions are good or bad.
- Do you think it’s a good idea?
- Would you buy a product which did X?
- How much would you pay for X?
- What would your dream product do?
- Why do you bother?
- What are the implications of that?
- Talk me through the last time that happened.
- Talk me through your workflow.
- What else have you tried?
- Would you pay X for a product which did Y?
- How are you dealing with it now?
- Where does the money come from?
- Who else should I talk to?
- Is there anything else I should have asked?
Do you think it’s a good idea?
Awful question. Here’s the thing. Only the market can tell if your idea is good. Everything else is just an opinion.
Let’s fix this. Say you’re building an app to help construction companies manage their suppliers. You might ask them to show you how you currently do it. Talk about which parts they love and hate, which tools and processes they’ve tried before setting on this one. Are they active searching for a replacement? Is there a budget for a better one? The idea is to ask questions so you can take all that information and decide for yourself if it’s a good idea.
Would You buy a product which did X?
Bad question. You’re asking for opinions.
Let’s fix this.. Ask how they currently solve X and how much it costs them to do so and time it takes. Ask them to walk through the process. Have they tried searching for solutions online or they don’t care enough?
How much would you pay for X?
Bad question as last one, except it’s more likely to trick you because the number makes you feel rigorous and truthy.
Let’s fix this. Just like others fix this by asking about their lives as it already is.
What would your dream product do?
Okay question, but only if you ask follow ups.
Let’s fix this. The value comes from understanding why they want those features. You don’t just want to collect feature requests, you want to find motivations and constraints behind those requests.
Why do you brother?
Good question. It’s great for getting from the perceived problems to the real one.
Some founders the author knew were talking to finance guys spending hours each day sending emails about their spreadsheets. The finance guys were asking for better messaging tools so they could save time. The ‘why do you bother’ question led to ‘so we can be certain that we’re all working off the latest version’.
What are the implications of that?
Good question. This distinguishes between “I will pay to solve that problem” and “that’s kind of annoying but I can deal with it”. Some problems don’t actually matter.
Talk me through the last time that happened.
Good question. Watching someone do a task will show you where the problems and inefficiencies really are, not where the customer thinks they are.
What else have you tried?
Good question. If they haven’t looked for ways of solving it already, they’re not going to look for yours.
Would you pay X for a product which did Y?
Bad question. The fact that you’ve added a number doesn’t help. This is bad for exactly the same reason as others. People are overly optimistic about what they’d do and want to make you happy.
Let’s fix this. As always, ask about what their lives currently are, not what they believe they might do in the future.
How are you dealing with it now?
Good question. It gives you an anchor. If they’re paying $100 a month for a duct tape workaround, you know which ballpark you’re playing in. If they’ve spent $100,000 this year on agency fees to maintain a site you’re replacing, you don’t want to be having a $100 conversation. While it’s rare for someone to tell you precisely what they’ll pay you, they’ll often show you what it’s worth to them?
Where does the money come from?
Good question. This isn’t’ something you would necessarily ask a consumer (though you might) but in a B2B context, it’s a must-ask. Often, you’ll find yourself talking to someone other than the decision maker. Your future pitches will hit unseen snags unless you learn who else matters and what they care about.
Who else should I talk to?
Good question. If someone doesn’t want to make intros, leave them be. Lining up a few conversations can be challenging but if you’re into something interesting and treating people well, your leads will quickly multiply via intros.
Is there anything else I should have asked?
Good question. Usually by the end of the meeting, people understand what you’re trying to do. But since you don’t know the industry inside out, they’ll often be sitting thinking you completely miss the most important point.
Using the mom test.
You’ll notice none of the good questions were about asking what you should build. The questions to ask are about your customers’ lives, problems, cares, constraints and goals. Deciding what to build is your job. Deciding what to build is your job.
“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.”
Here are three core ideas of mom test.
- Talk about their ‘life’ instead of your idea.
- Ask about specifics in the past instead of generics about the future.
- Talk less and listen more.
Mistakes to avoid.
Mistake #1 Fishing for compliments.
“I’m thinking of starting a business… so do you think it’ll work?”
“I had an awesome idea for an app… do you like it?
Mistake #2 Exposing your ego.
“So here’s the top secret project I quit my job for… what do you think?”
“I can take it.. Be honest and tell me what you really think!”
Mistake #3 Being pitchy.
“No no I don’t think you get it.”
“Yes, but it also does this!”
Mistake #4 Being too formal.
“So, first off, thanks for agreeing to this interview…….”
“On a scale of 1 to 10, how much would you say…….”
Mistake #5 Being a learning bottleneck.
“You just worry about the product, I’ll learn what we need to know.”
“Because the customers told me so!”
Mistake #6 Collecting compliments instead of facts.
“We’re getting a lot of positive feedback.”
“Everybody I’ve talked to loves the idea.”
- If you haven’t, choose a focused segment.
- With your team, decide your big 3 learning points.
- If relevant, decide on ideal next steps and commitments.
- If conversations are the right tool, figure out who to talk to.
- Create a series of best guesses about what the person cares about.
- If a question could be answered via desk research, do that first.
- Frame the conversation.
- Keep it casual.
- Ask good questions which pass the mom test.
- Deflect commitments, anchor fluff and dig beneath signals.
- Take good notes.
- If relevant, press of commitment and next steps.
- With your team, review your notes and key customer quotes.
- If relevant, transfer notes into permanent storage.
- Update your beliefs and plans.
- Decide on the next 3 big questions.
The BIG prep question: “What do we want to learn from these guys?”
Signs you nailed it.
- You gained facts, concrete, specific facts about what they do and why they do it.
- You gained commitments. They’re showing their seriousness by giving up something they value such as meaningful amounts of time, reputation risk or money.
- You gained advancement. They’re moving to the next step of your real-world funnel and getting closer to a sale.
Signs you failed to nail it.
- You’re talking more than they do.
- They’re complimenting you or your idea.
- You told them about your idea and don’t know what’s happening next.
- You don’t have notes.
- You haven’t looked through notes with your team.
- You got an unexpected answer and it didn’t change your idea.
- You weren’t scared of any of the questions you asked.
- You aren’t sure which big question you’re trying to answer by doing this.
- You aren’t sure why you’re having this meeting.