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The Mom Test is a very good book about validating business idea.

If you can’t read or don’t want to spend $10, the author also gave a few talks that cover the same ground and you can watch for free:

Here’s my summary, for the lazy.

You have an idea for a software product/business.

Here are typical ways to do it:

  • describe the idea, ask for feedback. Ask queations like “what do you think?”, “would you buy it?”
  • create a landing page, describe the product, collect e-mail addresses to guess-estimate the interest

Asking for feedback is bad because people are nice, they don’t want to hurt your feelings so they’ll either lie to you or will be way too optimistic about their interest in the product.

Rob talks about how to talk to people so that you get more accurate reading of their real interest.

It’s best described as an example.

Let’s say you want to do a cookbook app for iPad. You see that your mom has lots of cookbooks, so you interview her to validate the idea.

Here’s how not to drive the conversation:

you > Hey mom, I have an idea for an cookbook app for an iPad.

mom > That sounds interesting. Tell me more. (thinking to herself: I’ve been cooking for 40 years, I don’t need another cookbook)

you > It’ll be $40, it’ll have pictures for every recipe, you’ll be able to share the recipes with friends and family, it’ll have detailed instructions, a built in timer

mom > That’s great honey, I’m proud of you. Go for it.

Here’s a better way:

you > Hey mom, I see you have an iPad. What are you using it for?

mom > Reading web, email, sometimes I’ll download an app, like sudoku

you > So how do you decide to buy an app

mom > There’s an app review section in the newspaper

you > I noticed you have a lot of cookbooks. When was the last time you bought a cookbook?

mom > Oh, I’ve book cooking for 40 years, I don’t need cookbooks. Those are mostly gifts

you > So, you’ve never buy cookbooks?

mom > Come to think of it, I did buy a vegetarian cookbook because I want to improve my diet and I wanted to learn how to make vegetables more tasty.

In the first conversation potential customer lies because you’re asking about hypotheticals.

In the second conversation you didn’t even mention your idea but you asked about current behavior and you’ve learned that this particular person:

  • is not a good customer for a basic cookbook
  • they learn about new apps from the newspaper, so that would be a good place to advertise to reach them
  • they might be interested in “niche” cookbook (vegetarian, popular ethnic trends)
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