TII #004: Don't Waste Time Building Products Nobody Wants
Product and idea validation à la "The Mom Test". How to talk to customers to get the data you need.
Reading time: 3 minutes
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Validation is a word thrown around quite a bit in the startup scene. For good reason.
Building something nobody wants hurts.
Not only does it hurt, but we can also waste a massive amount of time.
As did I.
About 4 years ago I had an Idea I was super enthusiastic about. At the time I had enough building experience but my business savvy lagged behind.
I never gave validation a second thought.
To no one’s surprise, my genius product didn’t take off and I ended up with a ton of useless code but no users.
What is validation?
One of the things I didn’t do was “to validate” my idea.
Here is a concise definition for validation according to the author of "The Mom Test" Rob Fitzpatrick:
“Validation is the process of gathering evidence to confirm or refute your assumptions about what customers want or need.”
That’s a mouth full…
In other words: We collect evidence to ensure what we are building is valuable to the target customer.
But how do we get this information? → By talking to customers
Unfortunately, talking to customers is hard.
Maybe even more so if you come from a tech background.
We often ask hypothetical or sales questions like:
“What do you think of this idea?”
“Would you pay X for solving Y?”
“How much would you pay?”
The problem with these questions is … they don’t focus on knowledge generation. Yes. Someone willing to pay money for your idea is a good sign. However, most of the time we don’t have solution to their problems yet.
The problem? We don’t know what to build after asking questions like these.
Even if the prospect says they “like or would pay for the product”, it doesn’t mean they will pay for it when push comes to shove.
You may have been in that situation before. I know I have.
This is where the mom test comes in.
It operates on the premise, that if you avoid mentioning your idea, you automatically start asking better questions.
It's called The Mom Test because it leads to questions that even your mom can't lie to you about.
The book outlines several techniques on how to get the information you need to improve your product.
How to improve customer conversations
The Mom Test blueprint:
Focus on learning rather than selling: Ask open ended questions instead of trying to sell.
Avoid hypothetical questions: Asking hypothetical questions, such as "Would you use this product?" can lead to misleading or unhelpful answers. Ask about past behavior to get concrete examples of how the customer has solved similar problems in the past.
Test assumptions, not products: Test what really matters to your customers. Don't present them with a product, or a feature. Instead, confirm your assumptions of what problems they have. E.g. “Wasting time doing X”
This sounds simple, but is hard to execute.
Luckily, Rob Fitzpatrick provides us a plethora of tips on how to do this well.
How to transform bad questions into good ones. “Is it a good idea?” becomes “What are you currently doing to solve this problem?”
How to avoid bad data. E.g. Avoiding hypotheticals (“I might”, “I could”, etc.), compliments and generic claims (“I usually”, “I always”, etc.).
Asking does-this-problem-matter questions. E.g. “How serious do you take your blog?” or “How much time do you spend on it each week?”
I could go on. But listing every single technique would go beyond the scope of this article.
Instead, I have personally summarized the book on 12 pages and added a PDF for you to download here:
I still encourage you to buy the book. It’s a great read. If you want to support me, you can buy it with my affiliate link: “The Mom Test”.
A small caveat regarding money as validation. It is 100% good if a customer pays for an undeveloped feature, or product. If you already get the commitment in the form of money, it’s a very good sign. Again, keep in mind that “saying they would pay” is not the same as “paying”.
Validation is necessary. I wasted a ton of time building things nobody needed or wanted.
Armed with the techniques from The Mom Test, you get the most out of your customer conversations.
Validate before building by talking to your (potential) customers
Customer conversations are bad by default. It’s on us to ask the right questions.
Focus on learning rather than selling.
Don’t ask hypothetical questions.
Test your assumptions, not products or features.
Had I done all of this with my early products, I could have saved a massive amount of time and stress.
Now I know better.
I hope this article was helpful.