Listen Up! IH - Episode 15
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👆 That's the worst question you can ask someone as a startup founder.
It's a book about having fruitful customer conversations.
In just 138 pages Rob delivers a masterclass on validating your idea only by talking to people.
Over the last 10 years, Rob has founded bootstrapped companies as well as VC-backed companies. And he has spoken to thousands of customers along the way.
In his own words, he is a programmer who was "forced" to talk to customers.
He has learned to do effective customer conversation the hard way, and now he is teaching the world how to do it.
In March 2020 he appeared on the IndieHackers podcast with Courtland Allen.
They discussed the right way to talk to people about your business, bad questions Indie Hackers often ask, and how they can ask questions that pass the mom test.
The Mom Test is a set of simple rules for crafting good questions that even your mom can't lie to you about.
Normally, if you ask your mom if your idea is good or not, she will never lie to you. Because she loves you, she doesn't want to hurt you, so she will say the idea is great and it's an excellent business!
And that's true for anyone you ask, not just your mom.
Nobody wants to go through the emotional toll of telling you your idea is bad.
They don't want to be the one to crush your dreams, so they cop out and tell you what they think you want to hear.
Even if, the right thing for you to hear is that your idea is terrible and you should not waste your time on it.
The trick to passing the mom test -
But founders find it hard to have customer conversations.
2 reasons why -
Before we look at questions that pass the mom test, let's look at a few that fail it.
It's important to get out of "pitching" mode when you are talking to customers. Rob says you can lead people to any response if you start pitching.
It happens because you expose your ego and nobody wants to hurt you.
Some bad question examples -
When it comes to topics like security, sustainability, and the environment, another bad question is -
Of course, nobody will say they don't care about security or the environment.
Another example is if you are building productivity software.
If you ask anyone -
But that doesn't mean anything.
It's hypothetical money in the future for a problem they think they have.
What you really want to know is if they are doing something about it? Are they spending some time or money to solve that problem?
If yes, then you are in business.
If not, then you should move on.
Rob says it best -
"...Show me how much effort you’re already putting toward this. Show me what you’ve tried that’s failed.” I want to see hard evidence that you’re already doing something because if you’re not I think this is all just fluff..."
During a customer conversation you want to focus on the current facts in their lives rather than their future predictions.
The very first question you should ask is - do they care at all, are they even in your customer segment.
For example, if you are selling baby products, you need to know that the person you are talking to is a parent. They have a child in their life for whom they can make purchasing decisions.
This is a classification question.
Only once you've validated the customer is indeed your target, should you move on to the next questions.
Now you want to know for which problem are they spending their money, or time or both on.
A good method to get there is to go from the generic to the specific.
Whenever someone says that they have a problem, dig deeper and ask for specifics. Questions such as -
You have to figure out do they really care about the problem.
If they don't then you can move on.
That last one is really interesting.
Focus on the words they use to describe their problems. You can use the exact same words for your copy.
That's what you can put on your landing page, in your ad copy, and in your email marketing.
It's important to note that you are not trying to collect feature requests like this. You are not "building product by committee".
That's why it's important to not talk to them about your idea at all, especially at a very early stage in the conversation.
Talk to customers about their problems. Turn that into insight, and then take a visionary leap towards your product.
This is how Rob describes it -
"...it’s your job to figure out if it’s a good idea. All they can do is tell you about their life. That’s the only information they have access to..."
Another set of good questions - going back to the example of productivity software, you can ask -
Asking direct questions is important when you are brand new.
Right at the start, you want customers who care deeply about your product and that your product solves a very sharp problem for them.
As you get successful and become more mainstream, you will get more general customers.
But at the start, your customers should be crazy and emotional about the problem you are solving.
After speaking to your customers for a while, eventually, you will reach a stage where you will have to talk about your product.
By this point -
Now they are ready to hear about your idea.
This can happen over one long conversation or several short ones.
But by this point, you want to describe your idea and product, and want some form of commitment from the customer.
But before you pitch your idea, you must gain permission from them.
You must say something like -
If you get a positive response, you can go ahead with the pitch.
But if you sense the slightest negativity, you should refrain from making the pitch. They won't buy from you if they don't even want to listen to the pitch.
There are 3 types of commitments you should ask for from a customer -
At this point, you are doing "anti-sales" as Rob puts it-
"You’re intentionally trying to get rejected because you only want to spend your time with the people who really care. It’s anti-sales."
You are not fishing for compliments, you're looking to validate your idea.
And for that, you should always be willing to ask questions that you are afraid to ask.
Questions such as -
The thing you least want to ask is probably the most important question.
Because that question will make or break your idea.
If you get a hard commitment from the customer, then you're in business.
You've validated your idea, now you can go ahead and build it.
The process is tough, but it's necessary.
And you've got to do it with many potential customers.
You will fail initially but will get better with practice.
That's Rob's final advice -
Rob's advice about customer conversations -
"... think of it like a craft or hands on skill like skateboarding or pottery and be willing to fall on your ass a few times. It’s not science or math. You can read it in the book and you’ll get the framework and you’ll know what you’re trying to try, but you’ve still got to go practice. You’ve going to have some embarrassing moments and some whoopsies, but you get good at saying sorry..."
Thanks for Reading🙏
Listen to the complete episode on the Indie Hackers podcast.
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Hope to pass the mom test🤞
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ICYMI: Last Week I wrote about Validating your ideas with NoCode | Bram Kanstein
Read a shorter version of the post in this Twitter thread.
Thanks to Seth King for editing this post.