Mom, Do You Like My New Business Idea?

Getting feedback from customers is a powerful way to collect valuable insights. Every company that exists today religiously takes the time and makes the effort to talk to customers. And yet, most of them end up building products and features their customers might not buy. They don’t realize its downside until it’s too late.

Biased or inaccurate feedback does more damage than no feedback at all. Rob Fitzpatrick in his book The Mom Test1 says “Trying to learn from customer conversations is like excavating a delicate archaeological site. The truth is down there somewhere, but it’s fragile. While each blow with your shovel gets you closer to the truth, you’re liable to smash it into a million little pieces if you use too blunt an instrument.”

The ‘instrument’ that he is referring to is the questions that we ask our customers that carry “the very real possibility of biasing the person we’re talking to and rendering the whole exercise pointless”.

The Mom Test

Son: “Mom, mom, I have an idea for a business — can I run it by you?”
I am about to expose my ego — please don’t hurt my feelings.

Mom: “Of course, dear.”
You are my only son and I am ready to lie to protect you.

Son: “You like your iPad, right? You use it a lot?”

Mom: “Yes.”
You led me to this answer, so here you go.

What do you think would have happened next?

The son would have got the answers that he wanted to hear and would’ve believed that his idea is going to work. But, had he framed the right set of questions, he would have identified the challenges in executing his idea.

So, how do you prevent yourself from doing such mistakes when talking with customers? In the same book, Rob talks about the three golden rules that help you craft questions that even your mom can’t lie to you about.

The Three Golden Rules

1. Talk about the customer’s life instead of your idea
2. Ask about specifics in the past instead of generics or opinions about the future
3. Talk less and listen more

Let’s dive right in!

1. Talk About the Customer’s Life Instead of Your Idea

If you ask the customer if your idea sounds good, they are most probably going to give a false positive. Instead, what you need to do to get their honest feedback is understand their life firsthand. Rather than asking a customer what are their three favorite features, try asking these questions.

– What are the three things that you do every day?
– What is the thing that you do once you come in at nine o’clock?
– What are your happy or frustrating experiences when using the product/service?

Even when you ask these questions, they’re probably going to share what they could have done rather than the routine stuff like the emails they send or the meetings they attend. That’s why getting to the truth is very important when asking for feedback.

To achieve this, you need to put the customer in a comfortable conversational space. Most importantly, be authentic when talking to people. Because they are really good at figuring out when you’re faking it. If they get the slightest feel that you’re here to do an interview just so that your idea has to go through, they will just say whatever is necessary to get out of the meeting.

On the other hand, if you’re genuinely excited about their life, you will be able to sync with them. And once in sync, you will be able to get honest feedback from all types of people. The more you get to know the obstacles they face, the closer you’re to getting unbiased feedback.

2. Ask About Specifics in the Past Instead of Generics or Opinions About the Future

At the end of the day, most people are satisfied with the tools they use. As Henry Ford rightly said2, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

Back when they took the just-released iPhone to Nokia’s tech person, his feedback was that the audio quality was poor. This is because Nokia was a phone company trying to focus on the calling aspect whereas Apple was a computer company trying to make a smartphone. Fast forward to today, calling is just one of the many things a smartphone does. Even a company like Nokia couldn’t predict it. Which is why your feedback interviews have to be focused on user problems rather than what you need to build next.

Let’s say you need feedback for your fitness app. When you talk to a customer, don’t ask how well the next upgrade would work for them. Instead, try understanding how they attempted to get fit in the past and what didn’t work for them. This will get you concrete facts. And, acting on these problems is more useful than just showing them a mockup of the next feature.

Importance of Customer Feedback in Designing the Product

When you make products, you’re not the user. You just design them. Even if you try to use the product, there is still a difference between you and the user. This is why relying solely on your instincts or metrics won’t help.

Sudharshan Karthik, Product Manager in Freshworks

When you ship something, see whether people use it or not. Talk to them and find why people are using it or not using it. With too many tools out there fighting for relevance, it all boils down to the users’ lives. When you start understanding their problems, you will end up with better ideas for improving the product.  

3. Talk Less and Listen More

When it comes to obtaining unbiased feedback, listening is as important as asking the right questions. When the customer is answering, you should be able to weed out the fluff and compliments. Whenever the customer provides generic answers about a problem, get specific. Ask them how often they experience that problem and if they search for solutions. This will give you an idea about the seriousness of the problem.

Apart from this, note down what your customers say. This is because their feedback may not be of immediate use and chances are you might forget it. Or worse, you could remember it wrong and misinterpret the feedback. Here’s where you can ask the customer if you can record the conversation. In case they decline, take notes or type down those highlights.

Also, take a look at support tickets from time to time. They help identify where your customers’ frustrations lie.

Find More People to Talk to

The problem with talking to the same set of existing customers is that they become your friend, which is great, but not good for feedback. Which is why you should also talk with people who

– hate you
– left your product/service
– use your competitor’s products

It’s these people who can shake your beliefs and make you uncomfortable by providing honest feedback.

So, how to contact these people?

Most of the time, we assume that people who use our competitor’s product/service won’t talk to us about it. But, the truth is— conversations are not as hard as they sound.

You can directly message them. Of course, you have to be upfront and tell them that you are from a competitor company. And most importantly, be genuine. Don’t participate in a conversation because you want to know about the product they use.

A conversation is a lot where you give and then take. It should make the person you’re talking to feel, “Okay, this person is not talking to me only because they need a favor.”


As a brand, you need to be aware of how your customer problems are changing. While feedback helps recognize your customer’s needs, you have to make sure you don’t fall for the wrong feedback.

But, getting unbiased feedback is not an easy task. You need to ask the right questions in order to derive concrete conclusions. You have to look deeper into the customer feedback and fish out the actual insights. This way, you can make better decisions and prevent your brand from becoming outdated.

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