#startups May 8th, 2023

The Mom Test Revisited

Cody Norman

Not long ago, a friend and former co-worker connected me with a tattoo shop owner who is pretty tech-forward and was interested in hearing more about what I’ve been working on with Spot Squid.

Cold outreach to tattoo artists for Spot Squid has proved difficult. The artists I think this is the best fit for are precisely the ones that will have the most spam and noise in their inbox. In a sea of people waving fists full of cash at them to book an appointment, my emails aren’t very enticing. A number of these tattooers also have assistants that handle all their booking so it’s likely a large chunk of my cold outreach is never making it past the first gatekeeper.

After sending a demo of what I’ve been working on, I was able to get some time booked to get some feedback and ask some questions. That was a big win. In addition to feedback on the app, the process, and his overall thoughts, I knew I would have a rare chance to get detailed information on the habits and pain points of my potential customers.

In other words, I didn’t want to blow a golden opportunity. I first read The Mom Test about a year ago when I was at a much different stage in my building. I knew it was a pretty quick read and packed with useful information. Within 20 minutes of getting the email agreeing to talk, I was off and running.

I’ve recommended this book so many times but still am surprised and how clear, concise, and impactful all the points are. There’s nothing in there that doesn’t need to be. I even bought the author’s other book about writng useful books because I wanted to learn some of the spells he cast.

After having done some actual customer development talking to living and breathing people since my initial read, I was able to see examples in the book that were similar to the situations I had experienced. That was reassuring and felt like I was on the right track and in the right place to hone my customer development skills.

Scattered throughout the book are Rules of Thumb (Is that the correct plural? it can’t be Rule of Thumbs right?).

I’d like to highlight a few that were the most impactful for me, at least right now. It was hard to whittle down my list, but this is what I ended up with.

Customer conversations are bad by default

I would say I would have this one on the top of my list after my first read. I don’t think I realized just how bad I was doing customer conversations. It’s like realizing you’ve been calling someone the wrong name all night, you feel like an idiot and wish you could just turn back the clock.

Well, better late than never. It was good to hear that and while I like to think I’ve gotten much better, I think just knowing that you’re probably not doing nearly as well as you think you are is an important reminder.

It’s not your fault. People want to be nice and support others. Without digging into some responses and getting at the root of the issue, you probably won’t unearth the truth.

Ideas and feature requests should be understood, but not obeyed.

This one is important to me because since I’m the one building all the features, sometimes my otherwise perfectly reasonable judgment can be swayed by something that sounds fun. Don’t tempt me with a good time.

Understanding where this request is coming from is the real goal. What’s their end goal? What’s the pain point they’re trying to solve?

Watching someone do a task will show you where the problems and inefficiencies really are, not where the customer thinks they are.

A picture is worth a thousand words and a screen recording is 10x that. I’m sure you have a calculator on your phone so you can do that math. If your goal is to understand the request instead of implementing it, this is a great way to do that. Ideally, being in person and watching someone perform their task in the same environment they do it in, you’ll probably see the best results.

However, even if you’re not able to be face-to-face with your customers, there are still a lot of options for finding these friction points they have.

A few screen recordings of your potential customers walking through their task can go a long way in eliminating guesswork for where potential friction or painpoints are in the process.

The more you’re talking, the worse you’re doing

gavel slams guilty as charged

I am just thrilled to be in a position to even talk about something I’ve enjoyed building and have high hopes for. When I have potential customers talking with me and giving me feedback for free? Don’t get me started. I usually have to book appointments and spend a couple hours with a captive audience to get that kind of face time.

Being excitable is ok and your passion came come through with how you’re talking about your product and experiences. Just remember to pump the brakes occasionally.

You always need a list of your big 3 questions

This is a rule that made it feel like I had reached a different stage in my customer development journey. On my first read, I had a massive list of potential questions and hadn’t begun the process of narrowing those down. This time, I’m still working on locking down what those 3 are, but it’s a much shorter and more focused list.

Another thing the author mentions is to have your 3 questions for different types of people you may want to get feedback or advice from. This was another huge takeaway for me.

Rails Conf in Atlanta was the first time I was able to talk about Spot Squid after I pushed it out of the nest. When I was at Rails SaaS in October, I had just started talking about Spot Squid and the work I had been doing. It wasn’t quite ready at the time but would go live about a month later.

The feedback and advice that I’ve received has absolutely sold me on the intangible value of conferences. Having my 3 questions for non-potential customers isn’t something I had considered before but is definitely something I’m going to think about. He mentions having these ready to take advantage of those serendipitous opportunities and this is a great way to put that into action.

Revisiting The Mom Test and seeing things in a new light now that I have a little more experience was a great exercise. Re-reads are always fascinating to me to see what jumps out that you may have missed on the first read.

I’ve been getting some great recommendations on more books around customer development to my reading list so send me your recommendations!