The Mom Test Summary

How to bootstrap your business with a minimalist mindset. Great high level intro to bootstrapping.

Show me more about the book

Extracted Resources

Mom Test Cheatsheet
Customer Conversation Template

Key Takeaways

  • Never mention your product or idea when talking to people, always talk about the person you're talking to, their lives, problems, frustrations and current solutions


  • There are a bunch of good examples in the book about conversations that show how to do it right and how to execute the tactics described here. Make sure to read them!


Bad customer conversations aren't just useless, they send you on the wrong path
  • People want to be nice and not hurt your feelings so they tell you whatever you wanna hear

1. The Mom test

  • You shouldn't ask anyone whether your business is a good idea
Collecting a fistful of false negatives is like convincing a drunk that he's sober

A useful conversation

  • Gives us concrete facts about our customer's lives and worldviews
  • Talk about them and their lives not about your idea

  1. Talk about their life instead of your idea
  1. Ask about specifics in the past instead of generics or opinions about the future
  1. Talk less and listen more

Customer conversations are bad by default and you have to fix them


"Do you think it's a good idea?" → Bad, leads to self indulgent noise
Fix: Ask people how they currently solve their problem instead
Opinions are worthless

“Would you buy a product which did X?” → Bad question
Fix: Ask them how they currently solve X and how much they pay
Anything involving the future is an over-optimistic lie

“How much would you pay for X?” → Bad question, hypotheticals
Fix: Instead ask how much this problem costs them today
People will lie to you if they think it’s what you want to hear.

“What would your dream product do?” → Okayish, but needs good follow ups
Fix: Find out about the motivations and constraints behind the features they want

"Why do you bother?" → Good, points towards motivations
You're shooting blind until you understand their goals

"What are the implications of that" → Good helps distinguish nice to haves from real problems
Some problems don't actually matter

“Talk me through the last time that happened.” → Good best if they can show you not tell
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, helps figure out if people actually care enough to look for a solution
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, hypothetical
Fix: Ask for money or find out how much they pay
People stop lying when you ask them for money

“How are you dealing with it now?” → Good, gives you a price anchor
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, must ask in B2B

“Who else should I talk to?” → Good, end every conversation like this

“Is there anything else I should have asked?” → Good, helps you ask better question to industry experts
People want to help you. Give them an excuse to do so

Using the mom test

  • None of the good questions where about what to build
  • Deciding what to build is your job
You aren't allowed to tell them what their problem is and they aren't allowed to tell you what to build. They own the problem, you the solution

2. Avoiding Bad data

Types of bad data:
  1. Compliments
  1. Fluff (generics, hypotheticals, and the future)
  1. Ideas

Deflecting compliments

  • Most meetings end in compliments, but most people are lying
You want facts and commitments, not compliments

Symptoms of compliments

In the meeting:
  • "Thanks"
  • "I'm glad you like it"
Back at the office:
  • "That meeting went really well"
  • "We're getting a lot of positive feedback"
  • "Everybody that I've talked to loves this idea"
  • If you catch yourself saying anything like this, try to get specific. Why do they like it?
  • If you don't know, you got a compliment, not real data
Compliments are the fool's gold of customer learning: shiny, distracting and worthless

Anchoring Fluff

Shapes of fluff:
  1. Generic claims ("I always")
  1. Future-tense promises ("I would", "I will")
  1. Hypothetical maybes ("I might", "I could")
  • Always anchor fluff back to specifics
I would definitely buy that is the most deadliest fluff because it sounds so concrete
  • You don't have to always avoid fluff inducing questions but they need to anchor to something concrete afterwards, otherwise they are useless
People describe themselves as who they want to be not who they actually are
  • Even learning that a customer is a non user is useful

Digging beneath ideas

  • Startups are about focusing and executing on one single idea instead of chasing shiny objects
  • Don't buy into ideas but consider the motivations beind the request
Ask why people want specific features, don't just blindly build it
  • When you hear a feature request it's your job to understand the motivations
Any strong emotion is worth exploring
Ideas and feature requests should be understood but not obeyed

Avoiding Approval-seeking

  • If you seek for approval people will not want to hurt your ego and tell you what you want to hear
  • Always keep your idea and your ego out of the conversation and ask for commitments
If you mentioned your idea, people will try to protect your feelings

Cut off pitches

  • If you're trying to explain your idea, features etc. you're pitching
  • If you slip into pitch mode, just apologize
Anyone will say your idea is great if you're annoying enough about it

Talk less

  • If you talk about idea you will get into a position where you want to "fix" people's understanding
  • Don't interrupt people if they're telling you what's important in their industry
The more you're talking the worse you're doing

3. Asking important questions

  • Every time you talk to someone you should at least ask one question with the possibility to destroy your business
You should be terrified of at least one question you're asking in every conversation

Love bad news

  • Learn to love when someone tells you somethings that's hard to confront but necessary to learn
  • The worst thing you can do is ignoring bad news while searching for a tiny grain of validation
There's more information in a "meh", than a "wow"

Look before you zoom

  • Zooming in too quickly on a super-specific problem before you understand the rest of the customers life can irreparably confuse your learnings
  • Most people's number one problem in a certain area is still an unimportant one, they will never act on it
The premature zoom is dangerous, because it leads to data that looks like validation but is actually useless
Start broad and don't zoom in before you found a strong signal, both with your whole business and with every conversation
  • Startups tend to have multiple failure points and it's tempting to obsess over one and forget the others
  • Not all the risk is in the market, don't forget product risk (Can i build it)

Prepare your list of 3

Pre-plan the 3 most important things you want to know from any person
You always need a list of your 3 most important questions

4. Keeping it casual

  • Start with friendly first contacts
Learning about a customer and their problems works better as a quick casual chat, than a long formal meeting

The meeting anti-pattern

  • You don't have to schedule a meeting if you're already having a conversation with someone, just ask your questions there and then
If it feels like people are doing you a favor talking to you, it's probably too formal

5. Commitment and advancement

  • Cut through the false positives by asking for commitments
  • Commitment: They show that they're serious by giving up something they value like money, reputation or time
  • Advancement: Next step in the funnel closer to becoming a customer
"Customers" who are friendly but aren't ever going to buy are a dangerous source of mixed signals
  • Every meeting either succeeds or fails: Success ⇒ commitment or advancement
If you don't know what happens next after your meeting it was pointless
  • Commitment currencies: Time, Reputation, Cash
The more they're giving up the more seriously you can take what they're saying
  • Bad meetings can be fixed by asking for a commitment at the end
  • When you see deep emotion, do your best to keep that person close
  • Look for early evangelists that:
      1. Have the problem
      1. Know they have the problem
      1. Have the budget to solve the problem
      1. Have already cobbled together their own makeshift solution
In early stage sales, the real goal is learning, revenue is a nice side effect

6. Finding Conversations

  • Try to get warm leads
  • For cold calls, you only need one yes to get you started
  • Think of the calls as conversations instead of interviews
If it's not a formal meeting just talk about their life, then you don't need an excuse
If it's a topic you both care about, find an excuse to talk about it and have a casual chat
  • Try landing pages to get qualified leads
  • Bring them to you
  • When sending cold emails from your blog domain and people find your content interesting they're more likely to talk to you
Warm intros are the goal
You can find anyone you need if you ask for it a couple times
  • Professors are a goldmine for intros
  • Top-Tier investors are awesome for B2B intros
  • Cash in favours
  • Frame the conversation (Framework)
      1. Vision (What are you trying to solve)
      1. Framing (Align expectations)
      1. Weakness (Show weakness)
      1. Pedestal (Tell how much they can help)
      1. Ask (Explicitly ask for help)
  • Always prepare your list of 3 big learning goals
  • Spend energy finding clever ways to generate warm intros
  • Try to meet in person if you can
  • You can change the context of the meeting to "looking for advisors"
Keep having conversations until you stop hearing new stuff

7. Choosing your Customer

Customer Segmentation

You don't have to few leads and ideas, you have too many
  • If you start too generic, everything is watered down
Before we serve everyone, we have to serve someone
  • Fallacy: Choosing one segment feels like losing all the other ones but its for the better
  • You don't know if a new idea is good or bad if your customer segment is too watered down
  • You get wildly inconsistent feedback because of different needs
You don't have 20 conversations with your customer you have 20 conversations with 20 different customers
If you aren't finding consistent problems and goals, you don't have a specific enough customer segment

Customer slicing

  • Start with any segment and slice of better and better subsets until you end up with a clear sense of you can go talk to
  • Start with a broad segment and ask:
      1. Within this group who wants it the most?
      1. Would everyone in this group buy or sell it or only some
      1. Why does the subset want it? (Their problem)
      1. Does everybody have the same problem?
      1. Additional motivations?
      1. Which other types of people have these motivations
  • Two sets of answers: Motivations and Demographics
  • Start with what seems most: `Profitable`, `Easy to reach`, `Personally rewarding`
Good customer segments are (who, where) pairs, keep slicing if you don't have those
  • Run separate conversations for everyone in a multisided marketplace

8. Running the process


  • Have Current List of 3 big questions
  • Questions answerable with desk research should be answered by doing your own research
If you don't know what you want to learn, don't have the conversation


  • Review notes and update big 3 questions as appropriate

Who needs to be involved?

  • Everyone that makes big decisions should at least be routinely involved

How to write it down

  • When possible write exact quotes
  • Use symbols to capture: Emotions , Their life
    • notion image
      notion image
      notion image
  • Write down by hand then transfer later, to make searchable
Notes are useless if you don't look at them

Before a conversation:

  • Decide 3 big goals
  • Decide step forwards or commitment
  • Create series of best guesses what person cares about
  • Desk research first

During conversation:

  • Frame the conversation
  • Keep it casual
  • Ask questions that pass "the mom test"
  • Deflect compliments, anchor fluff and dig beneath signals
  • Take good notes
  • If relevant press for commitment and next steps


  • Review notes and key customer quotes
  • Transfer notes into permanent storage
  • Update beliefs and plans if necessary
  • Decide next 3 big questions
Don't spend more than an hour on prep, anything more is stalling