The Mom Test Summary – Best book on User Feedback

the mom test summary

Not sure if you have heard about this book called “The Mom Test” but it is a very short book (100 odd pages) and delivers some hard truths about how to get genuine user feedback.

It is a short book and would take you max 2-3 hours but for the laziest bums – I am reproducing the summary that I created for myself. I have distilled the whole book to 11 nuggets that  you need to remember. Hope “The Mom Test summary” is useful for you:

NUGGET 1: Talk about their life instead of your idea 

The measure of usefulness of an early customer conversation is whether it gives us concrete facts about our customers’ lives and world views. 

These facts, in turn, help us improve our business. We find out if people care about what we’re doing by never mentioning it. Instead, we talk about them and their lives.

Ask about specifics in the past instead of generics or opinions about the future.

Whenever possible, you want to be shown, not told, by your customers. Learn through their actions instead of their opinions.

Watching someone do a task will show you where the problems and inefficiencies really are, not where the customer thinks they are. If they haven’t looked for ways of solving it already, they’re not going to look for (or buy) yours.


The best way to escape the misinformation of compliments is to avoid them completely by not mentioning your idea. If they happen anyway, you need to deflect the compliment and get on with the business of gathering facts and commitments.

Why did that person like the idea? How much money would it save him? How would it fit into his life? What else has he tried? If you don’t know, then you’ve got a compliment instead of real data.

When someone starts talking about what they “always” or “usually” or “never” or “would” do, they are giving you generic and hypothetical fluff. Ask good questions that obey The Mom Test to anchor them back to specifics in the past.

Ask when it last happened or for them to talk you through it. Ask how they solved it and what else they tried.

While using generics, people describe themselves as who they want to be, not who they actually are. You need to get specific to bring out the edge cases.

NUGGET 3: When you hear a request or get a strong emotional response to something, it’s your job to understand the motivations which led to it. 

You do that by digging around the question to find the root cause. Why do they bother doing it this way? Why do they want the feature? How are they currently coping without the feature? Dig.

You should dig in the same way around emotional signals to understand where they’re coming from. Just like feature requests, any strong emotion is worth exploring. Is someone angry? Dig. Embarrassed? Dig. Overjoyed? Dig!

Questions to dig into feature requests: “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?”

Questions to dig into emotional signals: “Tell me more about that.” “That seems to really bug you— I bet there’s a story here.” “What makes it so awful?” “Why haven’t you been able to fix this already?” “You seem pretty excited about that— it’s a big deal?” “Why so happy?” “Go on.”

NUGGET 4: Establish the importance of the problem before getting into specifics

Everyone has problems they know about, but don’t actually care enough about to fix. And if you zoom in too quickly and lead them to that semi- problem, they’ll happily drown you in all the unimportant details. Zooming in too quickly on a super- specific problem before you understand the rest of the customers life can irreparably confuse your learnings.

The topmost thing to check is if the user actually has a problem and thinks that the problem is important enough and is looking for a solution before even asking them other questions.

Rule of thumb: Start broad and don’t zoom in until you’ve found a strong signal, both with your whole business and with every conversation.

NUGGET 5: Sometimes, your proposition is a definite YES – but would you be able to offer what you are proposing – Enters Product Risk!

Beyond the risks of our customers and market, we also have challenges with our own product. Overlooking product risks is just as deadly as overlooking the goals and constraints of our customers.

Product risk— Can I build it? Can I grow it? Customer/ market risk— Do they want it? Will they pay me? Are there lots of them?

NUGGET 6: Always know three big things that you want to learn from the customer interview

Pre- plan the 3 most important things you want to learn from any given type of person (e.g. customers, investors, industry experts, key hires, etc). Update the list as your questions change.

Rule of thumb: You always need a list of your 3 big questions.

NUGGET 7: Always push for some kind of commitment at the end of the meeting else it is failed meeting

Fail to push for advancement, you end up with zombie leads: potential customers (or investors) who keep taking meetings and saying nice things, but who never seem to cut a check. It’s like your startup has been friend- zoned.

Thankfully, you caused it, and that means you can fix it. It’s a consequence of being clingy and fearing rejection. By giving them a clear chance to either commit or reject it, you can get out of the friend- zone and identify the real leads.

A meeting has succeeded when it ends with a commitment to advance to the next step.

If you leave with worthless wishy washiness, I’d bet you’re falling for one (or both) of the following traps:

  • You’re asking for their opinion about your idea (e.g. fishing for compliments)
  • You’re not asking for a clear commitment or next steps

Rule of thumb: If you don’t know what happens next after a product or sales meeting, the meeting was pointless.

Commitment can be cash, but doesn’t have to be. Think of it in terms of currency— what are they giving up for you? A compliment costs them nothing, so it’s worth nothing and carries no data. The major currencies are time, reputation risk, and cash.

A lost meeting can often be saved by just pushing for a commitment at the end while you’re being brushed off with a compliment.

NUGGET 8: Find your true fans

First customers are crazy. Crazy in a good way. They really, really want what you’re making. They want it so badly that they’re willing to be the crazy person who tries it first.

Keep an eye out for the people who get emotional about what you’re doing. There is a significant difference between: “Yeah, that’s a problem” and “THAT IS THE WORST PART OF MY LIFE AND I WILL PAY YOU RIGHT NOW TO FIX IT.”

Ideal customer has the following characteristics:

  • Has the problem 
  • Know they have the problem 
  • Have the budget to solve the problem 
  • Have already cobbled together their own makeshift solution

Whenever you see the deep emotion, do your utmost to keep that person close. They are the rare, precious fan who will get you through the hard times and give you your first sale.

NUGGET 9: How to frame a meeting

The framing format I like has five key elements. 

  • You’re an entrepreneur trying to solve horrible problem X, usher in wonderful vision Y, or fix stagnant industry Z. Don’t mention your idea. 
  • Frame expectations by mentioning what stage you’re at and, if it’s true, that you don’t have anything to sell.
  • Show weakness and give them a chance to help by mentioning the specific problem that you’re looking for answers on. This will also clarify that you’re not a time waster. 
  • Put them on a pedestal by showing how much they, in particular, can help. 
  • Explicitly ask for help. 

Or, in shorter form: Vision / Framing / Weakness / Pedestal / Ask The mnemonic is “Very Few Wizards Properly Ask [for help].”

Once again, you can only pull this off if you have prepared your list of 3 big learning goals and have an idea of some possible next steps and commitments that you can ask for if the meeting goes well.

The UX community (who knows their customer conversation!) says you should keep talking to people until you stop hearing new information.

Rule of thumb: Keep having conversations until you stop hearing new stuff.

NUGGET 10: Segment your customers till you know where you can find them physically/digitally

When it comes to getting above water and making faster progress, good customer segmentation is your best friend.

As a quick example, say I’m building some sort of high- end fitness gadget for busy professionals. It’s going to be expensive, so I figure they have to be high- income (finance professionals?), and it’s going to be digital, so I imagine they’ll be young (25- 35?). And finance professionals live in big cities, so we’ll tack that on. So my customer segment is “finance professionals, age 25- 35, living in a major city”, right? 

No! This is a totally worthless segment because it doesn’t help me make better decisions and doesn’t help me find them. On the other hand, if I slice it down further to the sub- group who wants it most, then I can get somewhere. We could slice that initial segment into something like: finance professionals in London currently training for a marathon. Better! We know this slice is taking fitness seriously, so we might suspect they’re stronger early adopters. We could slice that even further by saying that we want the sub- sub- subset who go to the gym during their lunch hour. Now we can have all the customer conversations we desire for the price of a membership to a gym in London’s financial district.

If there isn’t a clear physical or digital location at which you can find your customer segment, then it’s probably still too broad. Go back up the list and slice it into finer pieces until you know where to find them.

NUGGET 11: How to run the interview process

Your most important preparation work is to ensure you know your current list of 3 big questions. 

☇ Pain or problem (symbol is a lightning bolt) 

⨅ Goal or job- to- be- done (symbol is a soccer/ football goal) 

☐ Obstacle 

⤴ Workaround 

^ Background or context (symbol is a distant mountain)

These five “life” symbols are your bread and butter. Combine them with emotion symbols where appropriate. Pains and obstacles carry a lot more weight when someone is embarrassed or angry about them.

So, essentially, if you are looking to get user feedback on anything then keep these 11 nuggets (and the mom test summary) in mind which would help you save a lot of time at your end as you would not be pursuing worthless pursuits.