Specifically, the first and most vital lesson is that asking anyone (including your Mom) what they think of your idea is a guaranteed way to an untruthful and useless response.
Why is this a great book?
The Mom Test goes right to the top of the list for several reasons. It passes the freakonomics test (it is actually much better than Freakonomics by the way). The reasoning may seem counter intuitive but once it is laid out it marries exactly with long experience. The author is able to put into clear and simple words one of those nagging truths that I have learned the hard way but did not understand well enough to be able to articulate.
Those clear and simple words are another great plus. The book is quite short and the language is plain but beautifully expressed. I only found myself reading back over a paragraph a couple of times in the whole 133 pages. In some jargon laden books, I do this three times on every page....and then put the book down before I finish chapter one. The appalling, tendentious best seller Seven Habits of Highly Effective People is the classic of this genre.
How to be really useful
It is highly unusual because every page is useful. Repetition is kept to a minimum and there is no attempt at padding. Contrast this with another best seller Who Moved my Cheese? in which a trite concept that could make a mildly amusing 2 minute coffee break story is spun out into 94 pages of laboured prose.
Even more different, The Mom Test makes no claim to have invented a model which solves the entire business world. Over extending the significance of an interesting couple of case studies is a much more common approach. Dig into In Search of Excellence or Playing to Win to see what I mean.
As a consequence, Rob Fitzpatrick makes no attempt to claim that there is a fixed formula which must be followed in every detail. Nor does he try to say that every reader should adopt the lessons of the book. On the contrary, he says if you don't want to do it, don't bother.
This stuff really matters
Why does this matter? Identifying customer pain and designing a solution is the fundamental premise of any Startup. Many business plans fall into two traps. Sometimes they quote large scale market statistics to demonstrate the sheer size of the potential customer base. You know the sort of thing - Gartner says this market is worth $2 billion per annum and growing at 14%. Neither the Startup nor Gartner have actually defined an addressable market need so this message is essentially worthless. The alternative approach is customer research based on a questionnaire which essentially says to potential buyers “Would you like X really cool product?” Nice but this does not get at the truth of the market either.
The Mom Test looks behind these myths and suggests a way of approaching customers to find out the real truth. The answers may be painful but if you don’t ask these questions your chances of success are much lower. Anyone who needs to identify the real market for a product (which is every Startup and plenty of other businesses too) should read this book and keep it on their shelf.
One small favour. Receiving compliments is a very bad sign according to The Mom Test so please don't tell Rob Fitzpatrick about this blog, he will hate it!
Kenny Fraser is the Director of Sunstone Communication and a personal investor in startups.