Rob Fitzpatrick is author of “The Mom Test, How to talk to customers & learn if your business is a good idea when everyone is lying to you”
His book shows us how customer conversations go wrong and how we can do better. 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 Talking to customers is one of the foundational skills of both Customer Development and Lean Startup.
We all know we’re supposed to do it, but nobody seems willing to admit that it’s easy to screw up and hard to do right.
Win one of 2 copies by signing up to the show here: www.theinnovationshow.io and find Rob on ww.robfitz.com
Rob Fitz – Final
[00:00:00] Steve Jobs: [00:00:00] Stay hungry, stay foolish.
[00:00:13] Aidan McCullen: [00:00:13] They say you shouldn’t ask your mom whether your business is a good idea, because she loves you and she 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.
[00:00:38] It’s your responsibility to find it. And it’s worth doing right. Talking to customers is one of the most foundational skills of both customer development and lean startup. We all know we’re supposed to do it, but nobody seems willing to admit that it’s easy to screw up and hard to do right. Today’s book is going to show you how customer conversations go [00:01:00] wrong and how you can do them better.
[00:01:02] Our guest is a tech entrepreneur of over a decade, obsessed with the question of how to get better information from customers before we’ve committed to building everything. Originally, a program are far more comfortable behind the screen than in a meeting. He was forced into figuring out enterprise sales at his first startup, where he learned that it’s not as straightforward as the books tend to claim.
[00:01:25] We welcome author of the mom. Test how to talk to customers and learn if your business is a good idea, even when everyone is lying to you. Rob Fitzpatrick, welcome to the show.
[00:01:37] Rob Fitzpatrick: [00:01:37] Thank you for having me. I’m excited to be here.
[00:01:38] Aidan McCullen: [00:01:38] It’s great to have you on the show. And just to say, Rob has kindly offered two copies of his book.
[00:01:42] If you just sign up to the innovation show dot AAO newsletter, you’ll be in with a chance of winning two copies of that book. And our show today is brought to you by Microsoft for startups. And I just want to say. The guy who actually made the Microsoft for startups is sponsorship happen [00:02:00] is a guy called Andrew McAdam.
[00:02:01] He is the MD for Microsoft, for startups, and he raves about you, Rob, but he’s been telling me to have you on the show for years. And he buys every startup that goes into the process, a copy of the mom test. So Andrew, this show is for you, man. This is dedicated to you just to say these giveaways are a way to say thank you to the innovation show audience.
[00:02:21] So my thanks to you guys as well. So Rob let’s get into it. I think this book is so important for more than your startups. We all fail the mom test in organizations, innovators try desperately to get a product off the ground sometimes just to show some progress individually to as many of us entered the geek economy or ponder going out on her own, we suffer from the mom test as well.
[00:02:44] So I love how you begin Rob with the analogy of an archeological dig. You say, trying to learn customer conversations is like excavating a delicate archeological site. The truth is down there somewhere, but it’s fragile while each blow [00:03:00] with your shovel gets you closer to the truth. You’re liable to smash it into a million little pieces.
[00:03:05] If you use too blunt, an instrument. Many people use a bulldozer and crate of dynamite for their excavation, forcing people to say nice things about their business. They use heavy handed questions. Like do you think it’s a good idea and those, they shattered the prize. What a great way to introduce the idea of the mom test.
[00:03:24] Rob Fitzpatrick: [00:03:24] It’s shocking how small changes in the framing and the wording of your meeting and your questions and the whole environment of the conversation. These little external factors can completely change the type of feedback you’re getting. Um, and either cause people to say nothing at all, you know, like you got too little.
[00:03:41] You’re excavating a building with a toothbrush or it forces them to just say nice things and you miss all the crucial negative feedback. That’s really what you’re searching for. Right? Because you’re trying to find the ways that your idea is wrong so that you can fix those things before you’ve committed to them.
[00:03:56] Feature set the products, the launch. The marketing spend all of that [00:04:00] stuff, but also once you get it right, it’s very simple. Everyone knows how to do this. If you’ve got a friend who you can have a decent conversation with and learn about their life, you’ve already got the core skills to have meaningful customer conversations.
[00:04:11] Aidan McCullen: [00:04:11] The next point really jumped out to me in a world of availability bias, where we owed our nuggets of advice without every fool, really understanding, as you say, excavating that advice, the advice many founders share with one another is you should get out of the building and talk to customers and it’s well intentioned, but ultimately on the helpful you say, it’s like the popular kid advising his nerdy friend, just be cooler, man.
[00:04:36] And you still have to know actually how to do it. And this is the challenge.
[00:04:39] Rob Fitzpatrick: [00:04:39] Yeah. Learnable, you know, in a, you know, being told to just be cooler or just relaxed, like not that helpful, right. But with the talking to customers, like I went through Y Combinator, I raised a decent seed round with my first company, Paul Graham, all our investors.
[00:04:54] After that, every board meeting, it’s like, just ask your customers what they think, ask your customers. And I [00:05:00] tried it and I thought, I honestly thought I was doing what my customer said. I found it so emotionally difficult to go out and talk to these people. But, you know, I did it, I knew it was important for the business and we still failed.
[00:05:10] You know, I did exactly what the customer said and it drove us into the ground and. It took me a while after that company failed to really understand that like, Oh, actually I was asking the questions in the wrong way, but you can learn how to do it properly. There’s no magic to it. It’s actually really simple changes to your behavior that completely turn these conversations on their head and they go from being useless or actively misleading to being social so valuable.
[00:05:32] Aidan McCullen: [00:05:32] Yeah. When you say customer conversations, aren’t just useless as you discovered in your first startup Hobbit. They can lead you down entirely the wrong path.
[00:05:41] Rob Fitzpatrick: [00:05:41] There are classic false positives, right? You go out there, your investors, the blog posts you read, everyone’s saying you got to find out what your customers say.
[00:05:49] Then you queue up the question slightly incorrectly. For example, you say, Oh, you know, we’ve worked so hard on this. We really want to fix this industry. It’s our dream. We all quit our jobs. We worked so hard [00:06:00] here it is. What do you think? Be honest. Wow. Well, you just ripped out your own heart and put it on the table and the other person doesn’t want to stomp on it.
[00:06:08] You know, that’s a really emotionally demanding ask for them. And so they might be thinking, wow, I don’t even understand why this is worth building in the first place, but they’re never going to tell you that. They’re going to say, Oh, wow. It’s so innovative. Oh, I love the design. Oh, this is brilliant. Oh, I’ve never seen anything like it before.
[00:06:25] Oh, when’s it going to be ready? And in your entrepreneur’s brain, you care so much about what you’re doing. That what they’ve given you is a bunch of stalling tactics. Non-committal stalling tactics and empty compliments, but in your brain, you misinterpret those as commitments to buy or use it. And so you take that as validation when it absolutely isn’t it.
[00:06:43] And she was just fishing for compliments, but you take that as validation and then it causes you to overcome it and make the. Six month development sprints make the big marketing span, the big onetime PR shot. This does really, really damaging to a company. So early on, yeah, you need this skepticism. How do I find the negative [00:07:00] feedback and the way you frame and ask the questions?
[00:07:01] It makes a big difference.
[00:07:03] Aidan McCullen: [00:07:03] This happened to you with your business habit, where you develop a great customer relationship with MTV and you ask them, would they like a certain product feature, and then you went and built it and spent. A fortune on more importantly, a lot of your time developing that product.
[00:07:17] Rob Fitzpatrick: [00:07:17] Yeah. Yeah. It was, we were trying to figure out social advertising before Facebook or Twitter did, which obviously didn’t work out in our favor, but we had a few early customers. MTV was one of them and we’re like, okay, well who better to tell us what to build than our existing customers. They paid us a few grants and we thought, okay, you know, that’s money changing hands.
[00:07:37] Like, let’s take them seriously. But even. You know, we’re just collecting feature requests. They said, we need an analytics dashboard. We need analytics. And we thought, okay, well build, do an analyst, but I never pushed deeper. And this is the classic mistake. I’m sure if you’re at all experienced with sales or customer support, you’re rolling your eyes at my naivety, but.
[00:07:56] We never pushed the next level. We never said, why do you want this? What [00:08:00] are you doing now? What’s this for, what’s this going to let you do that? You can’t do already. How are you going to use this? What are you going to do? If we don’t build this, we never ask those followup questions. And we just took that feature request at face value, which is it’s a mistake.
[00:08:11] The idea is that the no their frustrations and their goals, but. They’ll rarely tell you about their frustrations or goals instead, they’ll turn that into a feature request and they’ll tell you that. And so it’s your job as the entrepreneur to dig back down to the root cause of that feature request, because often they imagined the wrong feature to solve their problems or achieve their goals.
[00:08:33] Um, but anyway, we, we didn’t know that and we just built what they wanted and we gave it to them and it was this beautiful analytics dashboard. And then the next Friday they called it. I mean, they said, Hey, could you send us our analytics report? I said, yeah, yeah, I can do that. But you know, it’s all in your dashboard.
[00:08:48] You can get it yourself, whatever you need. But I sent them the email. Next Friday, same thing the next Friday, the same thing, the next fight. I said, Hey, could you send us a PDF this week with maybe our logo on it? And I kind of blew up. I said, listen, we built you [00:09:00] this incredible dashboard. You know, it took months.
[00:09:02] You said you wanted it. Like, why does it matter if it’s a PDF? It’s the same data. And they said, Oh yeah, honestly, we never even really look at it. It’s just, you know, our clients like getting the report and we think it would look nicer as a PDF. And I was like, Oh my gosh, I completely misunderstood the root cause of that feature request.
[00:09:20] I thought they wanted analytics and insight, but they actually, it was kind of this, uh, this chain of command of reporting. And I could have solved it in four hours by hiring him instead of four months of my entire development team’s time. And so whenever someone says to me, you know, well, talking to customers sounds great in theory, but it takes a lot of time.
[00:09:40] Doesn’t it? I was thinking like, well, yeah, it costs you hours, but it saves you months.
[00:09:44] Aidan McCullen: [00:09:44] This is exactly the point of the mom test. I’d love. If you took us through how to fail the mom test, before we learn how to pass it.
[00:09:51] Rob Fitzpatrick: [00:09:51] Isn’t this called? The mom test is cause the most buys person is your mom who supports you and loves everything you do.
[00:09:55] So obviously she’s a bad customer to talk to. So the classic way [00:10:00] that conversation goes wrong is, you know, you come to someone, let’s say your mom, the most biased person there is cause she supports and loves everything you do. You say, Hey, you know, I’ve got this great idea for an app. It’s going to be whatever, a cookbook, a travel planning app, a personal budgeting app, whatever.
[00:10:15] I know there’s others out there, but this one’s going to be better. Cause it does this and this and this. What do you think? She goes, Oh, well, it’s amazing. Oh, cool. I had never thought about it like that before, by starting with the idea, you’re putting your ego on the table and you’re creating this fishing for compliments dynamic, where it’s very difficult for them to say, like, honestly, I don’t get it.
[00:10:32] Why would I even want a digital cookbook? I already have paper cookbooks. I started with the pitch. You buy us and destroy the whole learning environment. This is the number one mistake that everyone makes is opening with the pitch. I’m not saying you’re not allowed to pitch, obviously at some point for people to buy or use what you’re making, you have to pitch, but.
[00:10:52] It shouldn’t be the first thing you do because it changes it from a learning conversation into a sales conversation. And that first opening [00:11:00] few minutes, when you haven’t introduced the product, that’s when you’re going to learn the most. And so imagine that same conversation with your mother, whoever, a friend, a potential customer, anyone, and you don’t even mention your idea.
[00:11:11] And this is the way to do the mom test properly. And instead you just ask about their life, you say, Hey, mom, we’re questioned, but, uh, You have an iPad, right? What’s the last two apps you bought and she’ll just tell you, you know, that’s just a fact about her life it’s already happened. There’s no way she can lie about that.
[00:11:28] You say, Oh, why did you choose those? What about these? Did you ever look for a cookbook app? She goes, Oh no. Why would I look for a cookbook app? It’s like, well, do you watch cooking recipes on YouTube? Oh yeah. All the time. I love them. It’s like, Oh, well, why do you do this? And not that, like, how did you find those?
[00:11:42] What, which ones did you choose? Or if it’s a travel planning app, instead of saying, what do you think about my great travel app idea? You would say, Hey, weird question, but can you talk me through how you plan your last vacation? Which websites did you use? Did you try an app? Why not? Like, what did you try that didn’t work?
[00:11:58] Did you use an agent? Why not? [00:12:00] And they’ll just tell you through what already happened and why, and that’s not going to give you certainty about whether or not they’re going to use your app, but it does give you this baseline understanding of what they’re already doing and why, and their decision making process.
[00:12:14] And that’s the foundational understanding that lets you take your visionary leap to what you think the correct solution is. And then you can come back to them and try to get them to use it, try to get them to pay for it. That’s much more an analytics driven. You watch their usage or it’s a sales conversation.
[00:12:29] But the mistake everyone makes is they try to jump straight to that sales conversation before they first gotten the baseline understanding of the customer’s life has already as their decision making process, the goals, their frustrations, their existing work arounds.
[00:12:43] Aidan McCullen: [00:12:43] I was really interested in Rob about the whole idea of confirmation biases and the many biases a victim of here, because we tend to look for information that confirms our existing beliefs.
[00:12:55] And I found this really interesting for corporate innovation because when you work [00:13:00] in corporate innovation, it’s so hard to get an idea over the line. That once you do, when you have a glimmer of hope, you tend to avoid those people who will tell you the opposing view and see it as your work MTV. I found it a very interesting quote by the founder of MTV.
[00:13:15] And now the CEO of iHeart media, Bob Pittman, he always asks his executives. What did the dissenter say? Because he was always looking for that critical point of view. And this is absolutely core to the whole mindset of the mom test.
[00:13:30] Rob Fitzpatrick: [00:13:30] Working inside a big company is harder because there you’ve got a management and reporting and budget kind of bias where.
[00:13:39] If you’ve been put on an innovation project and this isn’t always true, but it’s common enough that it matters. You’re not really being paid. Even if people say that you are, you’re not really being paid to find out that it isn’t going to work or that it’s not worth doing. And the same is true. If you’re a consultant, for example, like a lot of people have set up as freelance customer development [00:14:00] people where they’ll go out and interview your customers for you.
[00:14:02] But I would say that’s difficult because. If a founder hires you or a business hires you, and you realize that actually at the customers don’t care at all and it’ll never work. And it’s totally not worth building. At least as far as you can tell, that’s hard news to bring back to the founder. And often they’re going to say, well, you did a bad job.
[00:14:17] I ain’t going to get a new consultant who can bring me the news I want. And it’s really difficult. And like, if you put yourself in the founder’s position, will someone comes to you and goes, Oh, actually that whole product isn’t worth building. Like, you’re going to be like, Whoa, I need to go verify that myself.
[00:14:31] Well then if you’re not going to believe the person you hired, why not just do it yourself from the beginning? There’s like weird incentive biases around the truth. When someone. Is making the final call and that’s a different person than the person who’s getting the customer learning on a team. I always like, you know, I can bring the products, people, you know, my background is time ethical.
[00:14:50] I’m a product person, but I don’t write much code these days. But if I’m doing customer conversations, I try to bring the people who are writing the code as close to that conversation as possible, [00:15:00] because I don’t want them to have to trust me. Cause that kind of communication, it introduces more, you know, it’s like playing the game of telephone where the message gets corrupted or people aren’t sure.
[00:15:08] Woo. Did he really ask the questions in the right way? Can I trust this data? Are we really going to base our strategy off it? So all of that matters. And then in terms of the raw confirmation bias, like just wanting to, even if you are doing it yourself and you’re only reporting to yourself, it can still get twisted.
[00:15:22] I’d like to say that you can introduce biases by asking the questions in the wrong way, which is kind of what the Mon test deals with. Or you can remember them wrong. Like your brain can twist the data you heard and your conclusion. So your memories of that data can be wrong or you can get good data and then make bad decisions off of it.
[00:15:40] So there’s this three layers, like getting the good data remembering and interpreting your properly and passing it off to the right people and then making the right decision based on it. So basically to make sure that I ask important questions and I define important questions as the ones that could destroy my whole idea.
[00:15:55] So it could make me realize that it’s not worth building in the first place. So it doesn’t even matter. The customers [00:16:00] don’t care at all. I try to figure out what those idea breaking questions would be. And I write them down in my notebook ahead of time before the interview. And I make sure that I it’s written down in my notebook.
[00:16:10] I have to ask that question during the conversation. And it’s like, that’s the emotionally scary question to ask. It’s the one that can prove everything wrong. It’s when you’re really setting yourself up for rejection, it’s like getting down on your knee and asking someone to marry you. It’s like that moment where it’s like, Oh no, it’s all on the line right now.
[00:16:25] And so by writing it down, I find them a lot more accountable to myself and my team that like, yes, I need to ask this is important. Then I try to take good notes and I never tell my team my conclusion. Instead, what I do is I replay the conversation for them. So that they’re all getting the raw data.
[00:16:42] Obviously not the entire thing. I wouldn’t want to make them listen to his transcript. Cause that takes hours. Like they have other things to do. But I take notes with exact quotes and a little emoticon that shows the emotions of the person I’m talking to. And I’ll say like, yeah, they said it was the worst part of their day and they were really angry.
[00:16:58] They said, this is how they deal with [00:17:00] it, but they were clearly a bit frustrated and embarrassed about that. And they tried this, but it didn’t work for them. We do a one call per week. And so it’s like a weekly standup. And just anyone on there team who had customer contact will kind of replay that conversations for the other members on the team.
[00:17:14] And then there’s more points of failure. If you have the conversations in your own head and you make a strategic decision based on that, you’ve made yourself the single point of failure. Whereas, if you take a notes and then you review it with your team, it’s a lot easier for someone else to say like, Oh wait, we are fishing for compliments there.
[00:17:30] That was a bad question. Or that’s a stalling tactic, not a commitment. It’s a lot easier to find all these mistakes because you know, we’re human. Like I, I still make mistakes in my customer conversations. I get excited, you know, I’m spending years of my life on some product idea. It’s so easy to get over excited, but, um, use the other brands on your team.
[00:17:49] Aidan McCullen: [00:17:49] So difficult mana, you know, I ask. Many of these questions in the section you called. Good question, bad question. I ask them regularly when I’m asking opinions and [00:18:00] I realized through reading the mom test about how I’m reading you self confirming that a lot of this stuff and get excited like you say, and then can go off and do something or build something that will be really difficult to sell.
[00:18:12] And it’s really important also in sales. And I thought it’d be useful to make this very practical if we gave some examples and maybe I’ll. Tee you up with a question and then you can read British reds and tell us if it’s a good question or bad question. So one of the ones you start with is, do you think it’s a good idea?
[00:18:30] Rob Fitzpatrick: [00:18:30] He had, that’s like the classic worst question possible, but a lot of people email me, which I find hilarious and ironic. Like they read the mom test and they email me. And they go, so this is my product. Do you think it’s a good idea? It’s like, dude, I just read a whole book about how you’re not meant to ask that question because the reason this is a problem is because people just don’t know like people, even if I was of your potential customers, like in that context.
[00:18:53] So you’re putting your Eagle on the table and you’re asking me to predict my future behavior. And all you have to do is look at people’s new year’s resolution success [00:19:00] rate to figure out how bad people are predicting their future behavior. We just don’t know. People don’t know. They’re incapable of answering that question.
[00:19:07] They can think it’s a cool idea or an innovative idea or well-designed idea, but that doesn’t correlate to whether or not they’re actually going to buy and use it in the future. Like I thought Instagram was the dumbest idea in the universe, but I still use it almost every day, you know, and vice versa.
[00:19:20] People’s opinions about the future don’t mean anything. But if they tell you what you want to hear, it’s very easy to allow yourself to become misled. By that empty compliment or guests of the future. So it’s better just not to ask it in the first place.
[00:19:32] Aidan McCullen: [00:19:32] Yeah. And this is core part of it all avoiding bad data and specifically the flat incompetent
[00:19:37] Rob Fitzpatrick: [00:19:37] often you’ll slip slightly during a conversation and you’ll get excited about your idea or you’ll briefly pitch your idea, or even hint that you’re about to pitch your idea and suddenly the whole tone of the conversation changes and it stops being about your customer’s life.
[00:19:52] And it starts becoming a being about how smart you are. And how great and visionary and clever you are and what a brilliant product it is and how you’re inventing the future. [00:20:00] And it’s like, people get this conversation. You’re the excitable entrepreneur, and they want to encourage you, or you’re the excited, a visionary product designer, and they want to encourage you.
[00:20:08] They kind of get that dynamic. Um, and they’ll fall right into their role and they’ll start being like, yeah, it’s so innovative. So cool. So well designed so clever. I can’t believe no one’s done this before and what I do as soon as someone compliments me, that’s like a warning flag that I’ve screwed up the conversation.
[00:20:23] And as soon as they say anything nice about me or my idea, I’m like, whoops, I’ve screwed up. I’m no longer learning. And I try to reset back to them. And there’s two ways you can reset. You can either ask them for money. Like you shift into sales mode. It’s like, Oh yeah, it’s so cool. Oh, it’s not ready yet, but if you want to put down the deposit, you’ll be first on the list and you’ll be able to use it in a few months and they go, Oh no, no, no.
[00:20:45] I don’t think we have a use for it, but I love it. It’s so innovative. And you go, okay, great. Empty compliment. Not a customer. So you can either ask for money or like an introduction to their boss or lawyers or whoever, for example, like social money or you can switch it back to being about them. [00:21:00] They go, Oh, it’s so innovative.
[00:21:01] It’s so cool. And you go, Oh, well, Hey listen, you, you were just saying something I was really interested in. You were saying the last time you tried to do this, you had blah, blah, blah. Tell me more about that. And boom, you’ve put it back onto their life in the past. And suddenly that removes the bias. Cause they’re just telling you what they did.
[00:21:17] That’s just like facts about their life. They can’t lie. People lie. When they’re talking about your idea, they tell the truth. When they’re talking about what they’ve already done in the past. Um, they also lie when they’re predicting their future. So you want to try to as much as possible, keep it about facts about their past what they did last time.
[00:21:32] Why they did it that way, what else they tried, what they didn’t try, why not? Um, and that gives you your foundation. And from there, you can take a visionary leap to what you think the product is going to be.
[00:21:41] Aidan McCullen: [00:21:41] So you give us some other great questions here. Again, we’ll be so confusing for people because they seem like valid questions.
[00:21:49] For example, asking somebody, how much would you pay for X.
[00:21:53] Rob Fitzpatrick: [00:21:53] I worked. My first job in university was working for a company called game top. It was spun out of one of the big American TV stations, the guys [00:22:00] behind cartoon network. And they were basically trying to make Netflix for retro video games. Really cool idea.
[00:22:06] Monthly subscription, play all your favorite games, Sonic and whatever else. And. What they did is they, they pitched the product to people. They went to the big video game convention. They set up a booth. They had, you know, beautiful people kind of demoing this product to, and people go, Oh, I haven’t seen Sonic in decades.
[00:22:23] This is amazing. I love this. And they’d get them all excited and they go, how much do you think you would pay for this? Would you want to pay for it? They’d go. Yeah, I definitely pay. Would you pay $10 a month? Absolutely. $20 a month. Hell yes. $50 a month. Yeah, I think I would. You know, and then they went away.
[00:22:37] Um, they spent $10 million after this cause they thought they’d validated their product and their business. They spent $10 million. Oh, there’s getting exclusive licenses to all of these retro games. They have thousands of them. They spent years in the negotiation and development. They built all the emulators for all the old video game systems they launched and they almost immediately went out of business and had the fire, all their staff.
[00:22:58] And the reason was they [00:23:00] put people into an excited state of mind and then they’d ask them. A hypothetical guests about their future behavior. That’s completely wrong. What you need to do. Cause people aren’t in a buying decision. They’re in like a hopeful dream decision. Oh yeah. I’d love to go sailing around the Caribbean.
[00:23:16] Okay. Well, you’re going to have to take three weeks off of work and spend a grand to rent a boat and learn how to drive a boat. Like, and that’s going to take another three weeks off of work. When are you doing this? And they go, Oh yeah, I guess I don’t want to sail around the Caribbean. You go, okay. You need to shift people back into a mindset where they’re thinking about what they’re giving up as well as what they’re getting.
[00:23:34] And the best way to do that is just to put them to some sort of commitment decision. So what game-time should have done is started collecting commitments. Oh, well, if you give me 10 bucks now you’ve got your first three months paid for that’s a 33% discount and you get one month early access. You’re not just taking it’s a given again, and people will go, Oh, you know what?
[00:23:52] I’ll just wait until it launches with the URL again. And then they’ll forget about it. The commitment’s not about being pushy. It’s not about tricking them. It’s not a sales [00:24:00] tactic. It’s about giving them an opportunity to get into a buying mindset. Like they’re going to be in the future after you launch so that they can show you, they care.
[00:24:09] And you’re not going to have a perfect conversion rate. You don’t really care about the percentages or anything. You’re just trying to figure out like, does anyone care? And normally if the product is going to succeed in the future, even ahead of time, some percentage of your future customers will jump at the opportunity.
[00:24:25] Like imagine if an Apple fan got a chance to put down a little bit of money to get early access to the next version of the iPhone or the Mac book. They’re thinking, hell yeah, they’re not thinking, Oh man, I’m being tricked for them. That’s like a chance to show how much they care and get something they want.
[00:24:38] Aidan McCullen: [00:24:38] It reminds me kind of like the whole idea of grant funding that you’re funding a product that doesn’t yet exist and showing your commitment to it then. But one of the things I wanted to ask you was. Some brief ideas of questions to us. So the positive version of the mom test, where you can ask questions that are really voluntary.
[00:24:57] Rob Fitzpatrick: [00:24:57] Yeah. So I’d look for they’ve already done. So if it was the [00:25:00] game pap example, I might say things like, Oh, I mean, have you Googled around for how to play these retro games? Like have you ever checked on eBay? You can get the old console super cheap. Why not? Why haven’t you played them? Well, there’s free emulators everywhere.
[00:25:12] Like, why haven’t you tried and. You know, sometimes non-consumption tells you interesting things. Like sometimes they go, Oh, you know what? I never thought to do it. It’s like, Oh, I’ll show you how right now there’s an app for your phone. Like, I, we can do it right now in five minutes. It’s free. You can be playing Sonic and they go, Oh, no, I’m okay.
[00:25:28] Actually. So if there’s an alternative, like even if the alternative is a bit duct taped together, Steve blanket forceps, the epiphany, he talks about the early evangelists who are going to be your first enterprise customers. And what defines them is that they’re already cobbling together, their own solution.
[00:25:44] They’ve already allocated a budget. They’ve already hired a consultant. They’ve already found some way to get the result that that shows that they care. And so you can look at people’s past behavior to figure out, are they already trying to deal with this? Like people [00:26:00] love to cook. What about email? Oh, email is a nightmare.
[00:26:02] Worst problem. In my life. I would pay anything for an email solution. It’s like, Oh, do you have a personal assistant? Uh, no. Well, then that’s the solution to email, right? Like you just said, solving emails, worth a thousand dollars a month to you. You can get a great personal assistant for a thousand dollars a month part time and they’ll solve your email problem.
[00:26:19] And someone goes, Oh yeah, actually I just deal with it. And so one of the big things you’re looking for is you’re trying to separate complaints from customers and it’s quite a blurry line before the product exists. And by looking at their existing behavior, you can often start to make that distinction.
[00:26:37] Something else I’d be looking for. So you’ve got commitments, you’ve got existing solutions. I like to dig into non-consumption. So have you tried to play any video game emulators? They’ve got all your favorite games for free. They go, ah, you know what? I tried, I Googled it. The sites were really sketchy.
[00:26:54] They were full of weird ads. I felt like I was going to get a virus. I just wasn’t comfortable with it. You go. Ooh. [00:27:00] Okay. That’s interesting. Cause that is a positive type of non-consumption. That’s not that they didn’t care that’s that they do care, but the current solutions aren’t good enough yet. So actually the details of their non-consumption can make a big difference and sometimes I’ll see people not doing anything about their problem and I’ll go, no, they don’t care.
[00:27:17] They’re not a good customer. Other times I’ll go, they are a good customer, but there’s not a good enough solution yet. And the only way you can get that is by poking around to try to understand the decision making.
[00:27:26] Aidan McCullen: [00:27:26] One of the things you say in your highlight book is there’s a recurring criticism about talking to customers and it’s that you’re obligating your creative vision on building your product by committee.
[00:27:36] And this is what Henry Ford meant by. Although there is some doubts he ever actually said it, but. If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses. And a lot of people use that as an excuse sometimes to go in and go, well, they wouldn’t have asked for the iPhone or they wouldn’t have asked for a killer product.
[00:27:55] And I have the genius within me to bring it to the world. [00:28:00] Sometimes it can be true, but that’s pure luck, but sometimes on mostly it’s wrong.
[00:28:06] Rob Fitzpatrick: [00:28:06] I think about this as, I don’t want to take feature requests. At least before the product exists, obviously after your product exists and you’re close to product market fit, you can take feature requests because people kind of get what you’re doing fits into their life.
[00:28:19] But before the product exists, I don’t want to take feature requests. What I want to do is try to understand my customer’s lives. My future customer’s lives as well as possible in the way that you understand your close friends and family members. And the, the, the metaphor I like for this is imagine buying a birthday, present for someone you really know well, versus someone that you kind of only know their demographics, you know, it’s your best friend versus it’s a 35 year old female.
[00:28:45] Upper-middle-class you got, Oh gosh. Well, my best friend, I know exactly what she cares about. I know what her life is. I, I know what she, how she spends her time. Like I, I get all that so I can surprise her with a really delightful present. Now she didn’t [00:29:00] necessarily tell me what to buy her, but by understanding her life, I’m able to surprise her with something that fits into her life perfectly.
[00:29:06] That’s what innovative or disruptive. Product design is about, you understand a person, then you give them this thing that fits so perfectly like Henry Ford with the car, like Steve jobs with the iPhone, nobody asked for them. But when they arrived, they were like, wow, that’s exactly what my life needed.
[00:29:20] There’s a Simpsons. I heard about designing a car by committee, you know, and, and Homer kind of gives all these crazy feature requests and you do not end up with a Tesla, right? You end up with a mess. You can do that for laundry detergents or computer monitors stuff where it’s incremental innovation.
[00:29:35] That’s where focus groups and traditional market research work really well. But if you’re trying to do kind of real innovation where it’s not just an incremental improvement on something that already exists, you need to, to first understand people. And then with that as your foundation, yeah. You take a bit of an issue, date of leap, and you may be wrong.
[00:29:53] Like, you know, you might make something horrible before you make the iPhone. And then you go, okay, that was the [00:30:00] wrong solution. But my customer understanding is still valid. That’s the difference between understanding and validation you go, okay. I still understand my customer. Their problems are still real.
[00:30:09] Their goals are still real. The product wasn’t quite right. Let me take another crack at a different version of the product. And that’s where your product iteration goes. So it’s this balance, but like, if you don’t understand the customer first, then it’s like buying a gift for a stranger and you go, well, I guess I get them a gift certificate or a bottle of wine.
[00:30:27] They’re generic gifts. No one hates them, but no one loves them. And that’s not enough to get your product noticed when you’re a small startup or when it’s a brand new product category or anything like that. You need to kind of wild them. You know, Peter teal says it can’t be 10% better. It needs to be 10 times better.
[00:30:42] And I think that takes pretty good understanding the iPhone, the car, they weren’t asked for it, but they were grounded in very good understanding of the people who would eventually be using them.
[00:30:52] Aidan McCullen: [00:30:52] I want to ask you just as a final question for two cohorts, two different groups of people, what kind of questions should they be asking [00:31:00] or how they should be dealing with this one is startups of all types, both startups and scale ups, how they should deal with it.
[00:31:07] And then for corporate innovators, how should they deal with it?
[00:31:10] Rob Fitzpatrick: [00:31:10] I think I can actually get the same advice for both groups, although it’ll be applied in a slightly different way to them. And that’s to look for the income Neato conversation or the stealth where the other party doesn’t even realize that an interview is happening and the way you do this is by finding the moments around your existing interactions.
[00:31:30] So for example, in, um, In psychology research, they’ll often do a trick where they organize a formal experiment, but the experiment is just a decoy because they know since people know they’re being experimented on it, they’ve introduced a bunch of biases. And what they’ll do is the real experiment will be a hidden this experiment when people are showing up or when they’re leaving or when they’re getting snacks from the snack bar.
[00:31:53] That’s when the scientists are actually like in disguise, kind of doing the real learning, doing the real experiment to see how people behave when [00:32:00] they don’t know that they’re under the magnifying glass and you can use a similar approach to your customer conversation. So if you’re using a focus group or market research or traditional whatever user testing, whatever it is, you’ve got this formal interaction and that answers certain types of questions, but you can also use the time around that interaction to run in Cognito conversations.
[00:32:19] Or if you’re a startup founder, when you go to a meetup, instead of just exchanging pitches and business cards, you can say, Hey, weird question. But, uh, email security has been killing me. How are you guys dealing with it? Boom. You’re in a perfect customer discovery conversation with zero bias because they don’t even realize that you have an email security product, or if you’re going into a sales meeting, Let’s say you have, you’re a big corporate and you have an existing main product, or you’re an established startup, whatever.
[00:32:46] And you’re thinking about building a new, innovative product for the same customers. You can send two people to that. Sales meeting. One is the sales person. The other is the product person for your new innovative product. And you say, Hey, let’s just go grab a coffee for five minutes, you know? [00:33:00] And, and then we’ll get into the meeting.
[00:33:02] And while you’re waiting for that coffee, you can just be chatting. Hey, weird question. But how do you guys deal with this stuff? What about this? How were you dealing with this? How are you thinking with this? Oh, that’s really interesting. We talked to another company that does it like this in those five minutes, you’re having this unstructured, undefended unbiased conversation about the new products.
[00:33:21] Boom. That’s a ton of great customer learning. And then you can go into your formal sales interaction. So I’d say find these moments around the margins, you know, a customer calls, customer support. Oh yeah. I’d love to help you with that. But listen, while you’re here, let me ask you something. Boom, you’ve got your customer discovery.
[00:33:36] Find these little moments where people shields are down. Don’t abuse that don’t try to trick them. Don’t try to sell them anything, but like, those are the best moments for learning and they have zero time costs.
[00:33:46] Aidan McCullen: [00:33:46] We’re competing. We’ll find out more about you, your work, your books, et cetera.
[00:33:50] Rob Fitzpatrick: [00:33:50] There’s links to everything at dot com.
[00:33:52] Rob fit said.com or you can email me at dot com. If you have, I did the mom test book, then I did a book about designing [00:34:00] educational workshops called the workshop survival guide. So if you ever need to run workshops, seminars, anything like that, you might find it pretty helpful. Now I’m kind of focusing on nonfiction authors.
[00:34:09] So if you’ve ever wanted to write a business book, a educational book, Reach out to say hello.
[00:34:14] Aidan McCullen: [00:34:14] Fantastic. And thanks a million for offering two copies of the book, the mom test. So sign up for the innovation show newsletter on the innovation show.io. Also look out for some excerpts shared from this show on LinkedIn.
[00:34:26] And I want to thank our sponsor, Microsoft for startups. And thank you to our guests today, author of the mom, test how to talk to customers and learn if your business is a good idea. When everyone is lying to you. Rob Fitzpatrick, thank you for joining us.
[00:34:42] Rob Fitzpatrick: [00:34:42] My pleasure. Thank you for having me.