Takeaways from The Mom Test by Rob Fitzpatrick

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

The The mom test (* affiliate link - commissions earned)  is an interesting read for those wanting to learn more about talking to customers in a way that can generate better insights about your customers. It is targeted  towards entrepreneurs building a company in the “how” to talk to customers, but there are also learnings that can be applied for those in established companies.

Bad customer conversations aren’t just useless. Worse, they convince you that you’re on the right path. They give you a false positive which causes you to over-invest your cash, your time, and your team.

Here are my five key/favourite takeaways….

The three simple rules: the mom test

The premise of The mom test (* affiliate link - commissions earned) is that it is a set of simple rules for crafting good questions that even your mom can’t lie to you about (that something’s a good idea even if it’s not).

The rules are:
  1. Talk about their life instead of your idea
  2. Ask about specifics in the past instead of generics or opinions about the future
  3. Talk less and listen more

Good questions

Below are some good questions that can help dig below the surface and is just as applicable for those working in established companies as it does for startups. 

  • What are the implications of that?
    • This question helps to distinguish between “I will pay to solve that problem” and “that’s kind of annoying but I can deal with it problem”. 
  • What else have you tried?
    • This helps to surface how important the problem is for them. If they haven’t bothered looking for a solution then it’s not likely to be an important problem for them.

Bad questions

There are many examples given of bad questions that can be asked by entrepreneurs starting a company such as “Would you buy a product which did X?” or “How much would you pay for X?”. Both of which are bad questions as they are asking about a future behaviour which can result in receiving answers that do not turn out to be true. 

One of the examples shared also applies to an established company:

  • Do you think it’s a good idea?
    • Asking customers if they think something is a good idea has a high risk of false positive as it’s based on an opinion.
    • This can be fixed by asking them
      • To show you how they currently do it
      • What parts they love or hate
      • What other tools / processes they tried before settling on this one
      • Are they actively searching for a replacement (If so, what’s the sticking point. If not, why not?)
      • Where are they losing money with their current tools
      • Is there budget for a better one

Handling ideas/requests

When a customer suggests an idea take a moment to dig into the motivations behind the request. This is one of the things that I feel those in an organisation engaging with customers (e.g. sales, support) would benefit learning from (in addition to product teams).

Some questions to help with this:
  • Why do you want that?
  • What would that let you do?
  • How are you coping without it?
  • Do you think we should push back the launch to add that feature or is it something we could add later?
  • How would that fit into your day?

Handling fluffs

When someone starts talking about what they “always” or “usually” or “never” or “would” do, they are giving you generic and hypothetical fluff. Follow the mom test and bring them back to specifics in the past…

 While using generics, people describe themselves as who they want to be, not who they actually are….


There are so much to take away from reading this book that this post hasn’t even touched on such as tips on the process and note taking.

If you find yourself interested in what was discussed here, check out the book The mom test (* affiliate link - commissions earned) on Amazon.

* As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. This page contains affiliate links, meaning I get a commission if you decide to make a purchase through my links, at no cost to you.