×

Bright & Early Podcast

The Mom Test with Rob Fitzpatrick




Episode Transcript

The following transcript has not yet been edited. I am slowly editing them, identifying speakers, and cleaning up issues; but I haven't gotten to this one yet. For now, it's helpful for some Ctrl+F action to find a pull quote.

Brian: Hey everyone and welcome to bright and early the podcast for people building early-stage startups.

I'm your host Brian Rhea.

I talk to entrepreneurs, product people, designers, and marketing pros to learn what works, what doesn't, and why; giving you at least one thing to apply to your business first thing tomorrow.

my guest today is Rob Fitzpatrick Rob is the author of the mom test how to talk to customers and learn if your business is a good idea when everyone is lying to you you can find that book at mom test book calm Rob welcome to bright and early thank you for having me excited to be here I'm excited to have you here I I came across your book it feels like probably a year ago or so now I heard it mentioned on I can't I can't it's when it's one of those things were like I remember hearing it for the first time on a podcast and then there was several months that went by and ahead and then all of a sudden like everybody was was talking about it and it feels like it's it's just kind of getting a lot of traction and the bootstrapper maker like in the indie market so for listeners who may not be familiar with with your book can you give us a little bit of background on how it came to be and just what it's about yeah I dropped out of grad school to start my first business as a techie we went into Y Combinator back in 2007 and had a great time you know we were making making tools I was writing code I was building product we had a team of four basically all product people and tech people and we never thought about talking to a customer doing anything like that but Paul Graham told us we had to and we ignored him we're like nah that's dumb advice yeah lean startup hadn't come out yet so this was kind of like customer development existed but it wasn't well known like it is now and so we ignored Paul and we just built our product and locked ourselves in a lab and then we managed to scramble together a seed round from really good investors which was a miracle but they happen to like us which was more or less the same reason PG invested and they kept saying like you gotta talk to these guys like what are your customers think like I was like I don't know it's the Internet I don't know how do I know these people and he kind of gave me an ultimatum and so I made it my full-time job for the next two years to just go I followed a Steve blanks book the four steps the Epiphany religiously it was my Bible and I worked so hard and I was so miserable cuz I'm a natural introvert I really didn't want to talk to strangers I really didn't want to be doing sales but I was like I'm gonna suffer for this cause for my team because I don't want to have to fire my friends and tell my investors I lost their money and then the real kick in the pants was we went out of business anyway cuz it turns out that just asking people for feedback isn't enough and the big thing I learned is is possible to ask the questions in the wrong way and then the data you get back is corrupted it's worse than worthless because it convinces you you're on the right track when you're not and it took me a couple more years and the help of some advisors and talking to a ton of other entrepreneurs but eventually I figured out a different way of asking the questions which is much more like conversational relaxed it's not about your idea it's about the customers lives it's about taking responsibility for finding the truth instead of expecting people to tell you the truth and I was like okay this works and it also works really well for an introverted techie like me so I wrote down that approach into the book the mom test and yeah I mean people liked it as it's been kind of become one of the standard guides for how to do this stuff at accelerators universities all over now which is great to see yeah so so what were why were those interviews that you initially did for that YC company back in 2007 why were they bad what were you doing wrong here I'll tell you the mistake I make the mistake everyone listening is making you go into a meeting and the other person goes so uh what are you building like tell me what it's all about and immediately they've just queued you up to give a pitch and so you give a pitch and then you're like so what do you think you know would you use it would you buy it what's happened here is the entrepreneurs superpower is that people want to help you they want to be supportive when you put your heart on the table and you show them that like I'm doing this crazy exciting thing and I'm going for it you know they want to help you and this is great because it's like what gets you an impossible doors as well gauge to your first customer but the other side of this is that it means that like when people are trying to be supportive you're not getting honest feedback here and so and by pitching your idea you really zoom in the whole conversation about like small variations from what you've already built like you're never gonna go this is my idea someone's never gonna go like literally you shouldn't even have bothered there is no universe in which I care even a little bit about this idea yeah like but that's the type of feedback you want because that's the like step one of validating a business do they care about the problem but if you start by pitching an idea you're never gonna figure that out cuz now you're talking about features instead of talking about their life and all you have to change to solve this it's super simple is before you pitch your business you ask about their life like if you're if you want to make a phone app to help people plan their business travel instead of pitching your idea and going what do you think cuz I guarantee you're gonna get compliments and opinions instead of pitching just go like hey when's the last time you took a business trip they'll tell you and you go how did you plan it and they go oh I just googled I mean I bought the tickets on Orbitz what do you what do you mean how did I plan it you know were there any issues and they're like no it was easy what like what what you're like oh man like this person doesn't care they don't have the problem or if they don't know they have the problem like do I want to go through this like nightmare burden of having to convince them they have a problem that they don't think they have whereas other times you talk to people and they're like oh my god that is the worst part of my life I could talk to you for hours about how miserable this makes me I tried hiring a personal assistant to do it paid 50 grand a year like nothing works like I tried using every app every tool you're like oh wow this person is this problem is on fire for this person right they're desperate for a solution and it doesn't work for every type of product like you couldn't test something like uber like this because people didn't like ubers innovation is around the usability and the product it's like a usability based innovation Airbnb was the same way but for anything that solves a problem which is where customer development has massive learning potential and really all of Lean Startup has massive learning potential it's like you need to keep the conversation focused on them not your idea so that's interesting you said you said towards the beginning of that that the entrepreneur we're responsible for finding the truth we and and oftentimes we think that the customer is responsible for telling us for telling it to us okay paired against what you were describing of don't go into the pitch don't don't pitch them for for what we think that the truth is so validate that for me how do you like what are the types of questions that you ask as follow-up questions to the series that you just gave us there tell me about your life how are you solving this now that it what are the next level questions that start to validate the truth or uncover a potential new solution so where you're trying to get to is you want to understand what they're already doing and why uh-huh okay and you run bad as a conversation like you would with any other human being like with a friends like you know friendship is practically defined by understanding the other person and if you had a friend and they just got dumped by their husband or wife you wouldn't be like great news I'm working on a dating app do you think you would use it to find your next husband or wife like that would be weird and sociopathic and you also wouldn't go like on a scale of 1 to 5 how upset this being don't make you like how likely are you the rebound like that's not how we get to understand human beings in our lives and for some reason once business enters the equation we all put on our lab coats and get our clipboards and we start acting like scientists instead of friends my view is like you want to understand your customers like you understand your friends you want to know how their life works and why they're making the decisions they're making like if they have a problem that they haven't solved why haven't they solved it like maybe they just don't care or maybe they've tried desperately to solve it and none of the existing tools are good enough in both cases they have an unsolved problem but the implications of those two variations are very different for you as an entrepreneur um and so you'd ask whatever questions like oh why did you do it that way like have you tried this what did you google for can you talk me through when it went wrong have you ever tried doing it differently why not oh you've never researched it like it seems like a big deal does it actually not matter that much to you yeah none of this is about your idea but it's definitely on the topic of your idea and it's just like what are they already doing and why that's the core of it yeah and then at a certain point you understand them and you kind of get permission to go in to pitch mode you're like hey it's you know like no worries but like I'm working on this thing that deals with this issue that sounds like it's a really big deal to you if you've got another five minutes I'd love to tell you about it and then that's much more of a traditional sales conversation you pitch and then you ask them to give you some money some time and introduction something to prove that they really care because otherwise again you're back to getting empty compliments yeah okay so and along the way there when you're asking those follow-up questions if they it could be that yeah this is a legit problem like the thing that you're trying to solve it's it's valid they have it on a very regular basis however the solutions that they're currently using are adequate and that's the that's the end of the conversation yeah absolutely and then it's kind of your job as a product designer to be like okay on the variables they care about like maybe the things they care about is performance and speed or whatever beauty like whatever they care about like can I go into my like visionary product designer mode and make something like Peter Thiel says you need to be 10 times better for product based like you know feature improvements to be good enough to get noticed like do I like air B&B; did it uber did it do I think I can do it like the customer doesn't know they need it but can I make something so brilliantly better that once they're holding it in their hands they'll like never let it go yeah that that's like one route to go but it's really easy to delude yourself when you're going that route because we're wildly optimistic about how big of an improvement we're making um the other route is like wow they have a burning problem they're trying to solve that is hurting them and they want to fix it and no one has fixed it like maybe they fixed it for the mass market but this particular type of customer it's their life still hard and like I can do that I can do that for them and that leads to like you know all these interesting opportunities and personally that's the type of opportunity I'm attracted to because it's a lot easier to verify in advance that people are going to use it and pay you where is for the product based innovation like my background is in video game design but I think that's a terrifying industry because you don't know if people want your game until you're finished making it from a business perspective I would much rather know they're going to pay me first and then build it rather than the other way around but that means you have to be focused on these product type idea or problem type ideas yeah I so I've been I've been using your using your book to to do some customer interviews on this idea of remote remote tools for remote teams and my my hypothesis is that remote work is lonely by default like the default state is isolation and remote first teams have to actively work against that in a way that co-located teams don't it just happens passively and so it's believable yeah so in in the office the big complaint is my manager is always tapping me on the shoulder that's really annoying okay we know that my hypothesis is that overtime remote workers are like nobody taps me ok but but the thing is is that like everybody I've talked to in terms of managers that I've spoken with like yeah this is this is a for real thing we use zoom 15-5 slack lots of donuts etc like all of these tools but they're not exactly like and they totally suck and so note knowing at the 45 seconds that I just gave you my sense right now is problem is validated existing hacked together solutions aren't relatively adequate what what advice would you have for for me to say okay here are some things that you might want to consider doing next I'd be really interested in what else they tried that they gave up on and why they gave up on it so for example if like yeah we used to do like like on my team we had this problem and it was like oh we used to do a every morning we're just gonna get on a video call for five minutes so we can see each other's faces and we stopped doing that like every morning was just a scheduling tax and it was like a it was like okay and it's weird if like only two people show up and it's like it and so we're like okay so we tried other solutions we tried like a slack channel where we made jokes or a whatsapp group where we did this and say and we discarded each of them for certain reasons and I was fine on consumption fascinating because there's there's as much to learn about what they aren't doing and what they gave up on and what they haven't tried is there is to learn about what they are doing and sometimes if you only look at what they are doing you get a very skewed perspective there's a lot of information in the graveyard of you know discarded solutions so I'd want that and then I'd also I'd be super curious if they're still looking for alternatives it's like is where they're at a brilliant solution or is it kind of still this like uncomfortable work-in-progress like a band-aid and they're like mmm like yeah this is freaking perfect or are they kind of like it's like you know it's doing the job but then also there's this point where like your customers can't always tell you like they don't always know it's your job to understand them like think of it like a patient-doctor relationship the patient comes in and they're kind of like yeah I got this pain in my stomach it's not a big deal though I can kind of live with and the doctors like no you need surgery right now because they know that there's like a bigger issue lurking that's gonna develop or like the patient doesn't know but then also it'd be weird if like the patient came in and the doctor before even asking the patient what was wrong was just like take these pills yeah like there's kind of this give-and-take but one of the big myths about customer development and customer understanding is that you're gonna be able to get to perfect certainty and you're just not what you're trying to do is build a better than zero foundation of insight so that when you take your visionary leave and you're still gonna have to like entrepreneurship can't be done by robots like you're just trying to build the most solid foundation possible for your visionary leap you're not able to remove the visionary leap and it's foolish if you have zero information and you take your visionary leave because it's just like like man you could have spent two days and talked to a couple of people and you would have had to dramatically improve chance of success it's like you don't want to go out of business for a stupid preventable reason yeah but there's still plenty of heroic and authentic reasons to go out of business it's not like you never go out of business it's just like don't go out of business for dumb reasons yeah that's one of the things that I really liked about I liked about the tone of your book as you went through it was hey this this is about reducing uncertainty yeah we can't eliminate risk and it feels like you know as the years have gone on and there have been enough examples of you know just gigantic failures of these huge startups because they did another customer etc etc and Lean Startup has done a wonderful service you know to the community and but that there's there's almost been a swing all the way in the other direction of like don't don't don't write any code at all ever until you have you know five thousand dollars in pre-sell m RR or something if I there's at some point at some point you have to believe in your vision and you have to make the leap so I just I appreciated that about yeah I think a lot about a like a low-hanging fruit metaphor like if your startup is you're in an orchard right and your startup is to build an apple picking machine like and there's trees in front of you and like someone's gonna buy apples right so you need to develop this apple picking machine to sell them apples like like it would be crazy to spend the time to build that machine before you just picked the one Apple that's right in front of you and tried to give it to someone to see if they want it it's like that's a low-hanging fruit like take it but that doesn't mean you need to go and like manually pluck every Apple in the orchard from the highest branches right there's like there's easy stuff to learn in clever ways and there's stuff that honestly you can't and it's like I was talking to this team and they're like I'm like oh what are you guys stressing out about what are your big questions what do you what do you need help figuring out and they're like we're not sure if our year-seven expansion plan to China is gonna work I was like dude you know come on you've got so many things that are gonna kill you sooner than that like you know it's like it's okay that they're like but it's a major unsolved risk and it's like that's okay like you're going to have major unsolved risk the points just like deal with the easy ones like if it's major and easy like you need to deal with that and if you walk into a VC office and you're like our strategy is to grow through content marketing and they're like cool how's your content marketing going so far and you're like we haven't done it yet because we need a content marketing team I guarantee you there is a 0% chance you're getting funded because that's a low-hanging fruit that you haven't picked and you can't ask other people to give you resources to build the machine until you pick the low hanging fruit yourself like you're gonna get laughed out of the room politely and silently every time mm-hmm so one other thing Rob that's that came up in a few of these conversations is that the manager would just start begin to offer up you know one thing that we really are struggling with time zones like this is not solved or yeah you know we have different tax burdens in all of these different states that's it I'm not a tax expert I'm not entirely sure if I'm interested in that problem and I'm not passionate about time zones like a nice track you get up for that but what what's your take on when the conversations begin to when you're asking them about their life instead of telling them about your product instead of pitching them and they start offering up other things entirely unrelated to what your original hypothesis was what's your approach to thinking about that yes so people say like a lot of the advice about interviewing and stuff I think is dead wrong and I think it gets into people's head like there's this belief that like you can only ask open-ended questions but like if you only do that or like you must be entirely Socratic and just let them talk and like never offer anything yourself or like never biased like yeah it's hard right because like you say they wander off track and then it's like well I got a ton of information about something I don't care about right like that's not a good use of anyone's time the way I see it is like there's like bowling lane like you've got to put the bumpers on to keep them out of the alley or like the gutters like like you put these things and you let them bounce around inside the space you care about and when they get off track like you kind of need to pick them up or nudge them back on track and the way you do that is probably gonna be biasing but like fine you can fix that so you're talking about remote work and they start talking about about budgeting you can just be like hey listen I'm sorry to interrupt you but you were saying something earlier I was super interested in would you mind telling me more about how you guys deal with punk and like you've done two things like you've nudged them back onto the topic which is normally biasing because it's like saying hey I want to talk about this part of the problem but then you're solving the bias because you're shifting the attention back to the specifics in the past of how they're already doing it and why and people generally unless their associate path they only lie to you optimistically and accidentally or because they don't understand themselves so you go like do you think you would ever do this or would you ever use a product which did this or like what would your dream product do they get very optimistic la-la fluffy they don't know what they want they'll just say stuff and they're trying to sound smart and they like the sound of their own voice and they'll just give suggestions so like yeah I'm helping it's like a fun thing for them to do yeah so you just need to counterbalance that by saying oh and how did you do it last time yeah like they go yeah we really need time zones and you go well how did you do it last time since you don't have time zone so they're like oh well we just ignored it oh is that a big deal no I didn't really matter like okay cool it's like bring it back to their life whenever you can but you can nudge them onto the topic that you need get it yeah or I mean it's not even that they're lying or genuinely intending to you know to lead you on the wrong path people truly believe that if you offer if there if there's a way that is two times better that I that I can use in the near future yeah future me is totally going to help that is just not yeah it's just not how it works okay future me doesn't even want to see the friends on Saturday that I agreed to see on Friday you know it's like future me super lazy but like people have fascinatingly low self awareness about this like just look at the the whatever the dump yard of broken New Year's resolutions like people don't know what they're gonna do in the future so you can't bet your business on someone's deluded self belief about future them you got to look at their what they're already doing and then make your own decisions as an entrepreneur like that's why it's your job to innovate you're not building a product by committee you're just trying to understand the people you're serving so that you can make a good - yourself yeah that's right the new year's resolution analogies are really good one because that list of things is always that logically yeah what would you do if you did these things would it lead to a better life yes every case matter to you yes I'm gonna learn French that's gonna learn to play the drums we're in agreement there obviously so when we asked him about the past and what they've done before we also know that people's memory is very unreliable so how how near to like current solution what are you paying for right now or what did you what have you tried before how far back in time can we go and still expect reliable information I don't know as you say yeah memory is fuzzy especially when you start putting on the Y narratives like why did you do it that way talk me through that decision um but there's also more anchors into reality and they're worth more than nothing and like if you're asking about hypothetical future stuff like would you ever would you like that stuff I believe is negative value where's the past anchors even if they're like well you know a bit fudged with the passage of time like I think we're at least working with in reality okay so I I'm happy with that and you're also not going like you can't eliminate all biases like it's back to the low-hanging fruit right you're just trying to have fewer biases so that you can get better information so that you can make a better decision and also like people ask all the time how many customers do I need to interview like do I need to get statistical significance and it's like I hope not not unless you've got a million years to live like it's just not possible and also reality keeps changing and the market keeps changing and technology keeps changing so if you're trying to interview a bajillion people the world's gonna change by the time you see like you get through this list so you kind of try to get to the point of diminishing returns where you're like okay I've kind of heard it all before and I kind of know what I'm doing and I kind of think I've answered the big questions and then like yeah let's like I don't know and then you try to find an ongoing process where each week like you try to find a clever way of reducing the time cost like maybe you set up like one business lunch a week with someone in your industry or like two a week you're like cool that means I have two free customer conversations a week that like aren't a nightmare to set up and it's like okay one of my friends companies Songkick on fridays they would invite their most active users into the office for Friday afternoons and throw them a party beer live music all sorts of stuff and then they just mingled with their users and like that was their customer learning by throwing a party the employees loved it the customers loved it bonus right so there's like this initial blast of like I need to do interviews to get foundational understanding of what these people care about and then after that I'm gonna choose an acceptable number of hours per week and then design some ongoing process so that as I'm building my thing I'm always like getting a trickle in of this learning and sanity checks okay so that makes a whole lot of sense the like anchor anchor those things as near to the is near to the current as possible even if we are going back in time it's it's definitely better than asking them about the hypothetical future but maybe like flag it as we go or make some make some notes which thinking about that reminded me you you have this section in the book where you talk you have like some shorthand like note-taking symbols and things that yes can you can you talk about that a little bit and how you how you found that to be yes so I trust my own memory a lot less than I trust my customers memory cuz like I'm optimistic right like I want my business to work and like I want my team to think I did a good job when I had a conversation and if you come back and you go hey team great news everyone hates it no one cares at all they think we're stupid and our ideas stupid by extension like or vice versa yeah and like that's great we just saved a ton of time like people aren't as excited as you would hope they are you know your team rarely sees that as good news because in their hearts they're expecting you to bring back yeah we're on the right track that's what they want to hear and so your brain does this gymnastics where and it reinterprets what you're hearing in the best possible light and then that's what you convey to your team and then they can or that into the best possible light so there's like two layers of optimism ruining your data so and also I'm not that smart you know like there's people on my team who are much smarter than me and I found that if if I go to them and I kept the customer what the customer said in my head then when I go to my team I'm coming to them with a decision we need to do this because I learned it from the customers we need to change the product this way we need to switch direction and this way and that made me a dictator accidentally I was trying to run the Democratic team but because I held all the customer learning ID in advertently made myself the dictator we have to do it my way cuz the customer said hmm they're like what show me and I'm like come to the meetings they're like I don't have time for that it's like too bad do it my way um and that sucked and then we went out of business and it's much better if you write down and what I try to write down is like exact words but you don't have time to do that so you're right like a few words and then you put like an emoticon next to it because like yeah that's a problem carries very different meaning if they said it with rage and fire or if they said it with indifference so I slap an emoticon a few words of a direct quote than what I do with my team is instead of telling them my conclusions I avoid making any conclusions myself I avoid making any decisions about strategy about product about anything instead I sit down with them and I go let me talk you through the customer conversations I had I walked them through yeah they said this they were really angry they said this not a big deal to them they said this oh they said it costs $100,000 that's got a little dollar sign next to them and I basically give them like an abridged version of what mattered from the conversation with like this emotional markup and then the conversation the data is loaded into everybody's head you've you've outwitted your optimism filter and then you can use everyone's brains on the team to come to a better strategy decision and product decision pivot decision whatever it is you know otherwise you're just making yourself this bottleneck and dictator use emotional signals than the other ones I use a lot is problem goal so like I use a lightning bolt for a problem I use a little like football goal for a goal background information is a little mount like an arrow and then whenever they mentioned an obstacle like oh I'd love to do that but IT says we can't that's a little square and then if they mention another person or company or a task like a next step or something they want like I mark those specially and then at the end of the meeting I scan looking for the people icons or the store icons there was like oh so like the next steps are this this and this and you said this person in this company would be great to talk to do you feel comfortable making an introduction at this point and if they're like I'm like hey no worries where would we need to get to or what would we need to provide for you to feel excited to make that introduction and they're like oh well if you could give me this case study I'd be glad to make that intro and then you're like okay cool and that again is outwitting your own optimism because otherwise like every promised intro seems like a real intro and it's not like a lot of them are conditional and you need to understand what the conditions are and then you go okay they need us to have 12 Enterprise clients before they're serious before he'll introduce me to my boss that's not happening for years whereas this person just needs to see a one-page spec sheet I can do that yeah and that's how you start to evaluate a sanity check a pipeline because otherwise they're all just names in a list they all look equal but they're not like you need those conditions behind the intros behind the next steps mm-hmm you and you taught you talked about even that as being a form of commitment like there's there's one thing of okay hey yeah we're on the way can can we get your credit card but you depending upon what stage you're at in developing your idea the commitment of oh yeah I will introduce you to a friend to talk to that that sort of social capital like you do you can see you consider that absolutely commitment and validation basically you're looking for anything that they would that cost them something to give you so an introduction to an inferior so if you're talking to a manager and they introduce you to a report that doesn't carry very much weight because the managers happy to waste theirs their reports time it's like they just want to get rid of you oh yeah I talked to this dude where as an introduction to someone's boss is a huge commitment because they're risking reputation yeah the risk and getting fired if the boss thinks their time is being wasted so like not all introductions are equal and the same way someone give their time it's like yeah let's put another meeting in the calendar well if you and that person had a great time together and you were laughing and having beers and they see it as like a nice break from their day job it doesn't mean as much as like if they're like oh like I'm busy I really don't have time for this but yes this is important let's find some time to do it so you're kind of weighing their seriousness you like you try to design these ahead of time because it's really hard to do in the moment it takes a little bit of creative thought but you're going what's the thing I could ask for that's not so much is to be cheeky or ridiculous like if your idea stage you can't ask people for money usually anymore oh but you might be able to ask them for an introduction or you might be able to ask them for a chunk of their team's time to look through a product's back or wireframes or paper prototype and you're looking for the thing that's like acceptable to ask for that they won't give you unless they actually care yeah yeah I like that and then and that's that's there's an art to that like you described like there's there's something again I do it with my team like it's the sort of thing we're like I have stupid ideas and I go oh look and then you sit down with your team and you go hey if this meeting goes well what's the thing I should ask for yeah and if it doesn't go well you don't ask for it cuz like that's not happening right if it's not going well they don't have the problem they don't care they don't like you just go hey thank you so much for your time let me get out of your hair and give you some extra lunch break yeah and people love that but yeah if it goes well you almost always want to ask for permission to tell them about the product and then if they like that you ask for a commitment of some sort to figure out if they're a customer or not hey you listeners we'll get back to the interview in just a second but this is a great time to pause and let you know that bright and early is brought to you by transistor FM transistor offers you professional podcast hosting and analytics they host this very podcast and listen y'all it just it could not be any easier product is ridiculously easy to use if you've got a question Justin and John the guys behind the software are super responsive I've needed to reach out a time or two for some help they were all over it so if you're thinking about starting a podcast for your business just pop on over to transistor fm and let them know that Brian said yeah the other thing you say in the book that you should go into each each conversation with are three big learning goals so can you like give some concrete examples or like give some examples of what what would those three things be I'm walking into my next next conversation yes so one of my little like projects some years ago was universities have all these researchers and the researchers are coming up with patents and intellectual property and projects and all this and some of them can be commercialized so big research university like University College London they'll spin out a bunch of these patents as like standalone businesses with shared IP so the university will keep some the research will keep some and then they'll like build a team around it to try to commercialize it and this is obviously a hassle right there's like tens of thousands of patents that they're like okay which ones have potential to be commercialized and there's like progress for that and there's all these things right and so it was like this interesting complex space that I felt was worth a lot of money and I wanted to build some software to basically like help these there's a team responsible for this called technology transfer inside these big universities and that's their job is to like identify commercially viable patents and then spin them out into businesses I was like I'm gonna support these guys with software because I talked to them and it's like wow they're using Excel for everything that's all they have it's just an excel sheet with tens of thousands of patents and they like look through it it seemed like madness to me and then it's like posted notes and I was like okay so early on I was kind of like well does this matter to them like do they care that was my learning goal it's like do they even like are they happy maybe they're happy with Excel and post-it notes so that's like my only learning goal at first so I go into the conversation I'm like talk me through how it works why do you do it this way have you tried anything else and I'm gonna ask dozens of questions but they're all around this core learning goal of like do they even care or are they happy because like as a I was horrified huh Excel Oh No but like maybe that's okay and then like it shifted in and my next big learning goal was like okay do they have a budget because University's notoriously like they find it really easy to hire people and pay salaries but then they have no discretionary budgets by anything else okay so I'm like and some departments do and other departments have nothing and so you can be like I'm gonna save you ten million a year and they're like you know what we already have budget for that ten million and I can't find a budget for a thousand to like buy the software to save that ten million it's just like not so I'm like okay does the budgeting allow for so that's my learning goal and that led to a whole series of conversations um and the reason I say like two or three is it's really pointless to go into an interview with like 20 questions pre plans cuz like it's gonna make a really rigid static like unpleasant Scientifics on a scale of one to five it's like boring for the recipient where's if there's like one or two big things you're trying to learn about and talk around you could just be like wow that sucks tell me more about that and like boom the floodgates open up and I found for me two or three is like a natural amount to fit in a conversation sometimes is one that's enough and you don't need to repeat yourself once you've got a satisfactory answer to one of your big learning goals like that's no longer a learning goal so you're not trying to go through like this whole series of 20 questions in every conversation you're trying to learn the next important question that you're worried about and then you add that to your knowledge base and like so you're asking different people different stuff depending on how much you know how much you've learned okay so like do they care do they have budget are they satisfied or unsatisfied with their current solution like yeah that's a natural progression through it was for that type of like heavily at like universities act like governments or big enterprises they're like very rigid in that way if I was talking to someone smaller like I was talking to an agency about some software we're making and for me my number one goal was like does this cost the money and do they really care like do they care enough to change their workflow because what agencies have is they're really busy and for them like training staff and new software is losing billable hour so it's like I might sell my software to them for 10 grand but they're gonna lose 50 grand a billable hours to transition their workflow onto it so I'm like do they really see the financial value of solving this problem differently so like I really love the business model canvas I know it was super trendy for a while and then it fell out of fashion but it's still my like go-to mental tool and what I do is like for any idea like there is a most risky part that is most likely to kill you first and you sort of like go through and in some cases it might be like can I manufacture this cheaply enough and then I'm not talking to customers I'm talking to manufacturers suppliers and industry experts in other cases the burning question might be like is it legal and then I'm talking to a buddy who's a lawyer and I'm like helping him with his blog in exchange for free legal advice like there's not loads of people have tried to put like a 1-2-3 process on this and it doesn't work it works if you happen to have exactly the same type of business as the person who's making the process but if you're doing it for yourself it's like it's much better to be like okay like where am I at what's like scariest what do I need to know first what's like the next linchpin and then you just kind of go through them yeah that's that's great advice we only have a couple of minutes left here so I want to say thanks again Rob for for your time what do you what do you like to do in your spare time what are you sailing spend my my main hobby a years ago when I've been running like an Education Agency business and we were trying to like productized and trying to do it was like a good agency but we could never turn the corner to products so after like three years we shut it down and but it had done well and my books were doing well so I was like okay like let's take off a life goal and one of my goals had been to learn to sail and then sail across the English Channel by myself so I was like alright so I like took the course after like a week I didn't even know how to sail yet I like did the course Monday to Friday I woke up the next morning Saturday I picked up my laptop put it in my lap I hadn't even got out of bed yet I went onto eBay and I hit buy it now on a boat with this this was like three years ago okay I was like I was like alright I better learn how to sail now so I like picked up the boat but I didn't know what to do with it and I moved it it was like near London and I moved it to southeast England and then part of the mast fell off which is a problem for a sailboat and so I lifted it out of the water yeah yeah I was like oh man like the whole boats destroyed so I was like this is great actually I put it in the boat yard and I spent four months doing full time manual labor just like repairing the hull sanding it down rebuilding it and then I spent like two years well one year living in the boat full-time and then another like year-and-a-half part-time and basically bringing it from London to Barcelona through the French canals and I was in Barcelona with me and like that's a good one but apart from that normal stuff video games writing Netflix so did you accomplish the life goal at some point to sail this yeah nice across the channel went from London to France it was super anticlimactic it's like really easy you just like set the sails and then you sit there for eight hours and you're in France it's like I was like oh well that was I didn't even know what need to know how to sail for that I think was a great fun and like the French canals were really fun like I went into I arrived in Paris as France was winning the World Cup they were like why it's breaking out I pulled in the boat and a bunch of kids were like you have a boat I was like yeah they're like let's party and so they like took me picnicking and we watched the riots and everyone's setting cars on fire and then I took them sailing we had a good time that sounds like the beginnings of a really interesting novel does your does your boat have a name yeah it's called spores which I love and this is maybe a nice a nice inspirational slash cautionary tale closing note so the dude I bought it from a dude named Leslie he and the ABS he'd been like a punk rocker you know and the name of his rock band was force spores and then he became like an accountant or something and he was in London and he's like so busy and you know in his like 40s he bought the boat is this like return to youth and he renamed it from the Samantha to the spores because he didn't want anyone to get the wrong idea about a woman and you know he wanted to like re embrace his wild youth but then he was so busy with work he owned the boat for three years he put a brand new engine and has spent a bunch of money on it he never sailed it once in three years of ownership and then he sold it to me for a fraction of what he bought it for derelict and destroyed and everyone asked me they're like wow that's a terrible name for a boat spores aren't you gonna change it I was like no I love it cuz like I love this idea of like this like failed midlife crisis and how like actually like at a certain point if there's something you want to do it's like you got it like make the time and do it you know you can't just like I don't know so as part of my getting away from London and getting away from workaholism the move to Barcelona trying to embrace a bit more leisure and yeah I love it it's been a I love the boat as a symbol and also the vote is a vote although it's it's falling apart it's an old boat so I need to get it back in the boat yard now good good luck with that good luck with it my guest today has been robbed fitzpatrick you you can find his book at mom test book calm you can follow him on twitter at Rob Fitz Rob thanks so much for your time I really appreciate it that's right I mean it's been a pleasure and good luck with your businesses everybody got my hot cup of coffee here so let's do some closing thoughts the idea at the very top of the interview just completely resonates you know just just doing customer interviews is not enough in fact sometimes some of that data can be worse than no data at all actually my newsletter topic on it was on that very idea just a couple of weeks ago and it's because I mean it's just something that I've observed I observed it myself like earlier on in my career and I've just seen you know many people doing it at different startups along the way there it's just it's so you've got great intentions to ask people what do you think about this would you buy this if we built X feature would you which you then sign up for our for our product all of those things it's it's funny it it feels like yeah of course those are the kinds of questions that you ought to ask that's what you would ask somebody if I did this thing then would you whatever it that feels like a common-sense thing to ask but as we dug into there you know unfortunately people are people are way too optimistic about their about their future selves behavior and I I do I think that hopefully like if that doesn't already resonate with you and kind of change the way that you're thinking about thinking about this then the example of New Year's resolutions I think just really drives it home to realize oh yeah totally I do that everybody I know does that it's it's it's just such a cliche the new year's resolution and and some of them do stick for sure but most of them don't and it's just a perfect example of yeah for sure doing this would be a better thing however when it really comes down to it and I am you know presented with making that choice in my day-to-day life I'll probably just stick with routine or habit or what I've been doing it is the exact same thing when you're trying to create a new product and get somebody to switch from from what they're currently using to your new thing so questions like do you like this would you buy this if we added X would you be more likely to sign up those sound like good questions unfortunately you know following those answers can oftentimes actually lead you it can be worse than you sitting in your office in your own brain coming up with the idea and then doing that which the you know last ten years worth of narrative and in start in the startup world is how bad of an idea that is to do that very thing to sit in your office in your head come up with a thing and then build only that that yes it's just we've it's been you know well shared and beating over everybody's heads that that's such a terrible thing to do you got to get out of the building okay yes that's true you just got to get out of the building in the right way and so yeah I mean in short the easiest way to improve the way that you're conducting customer interviews is just don't talk about your idea ask about their life like just start just start there um and and your interviews will like almost by definition get immediately better and don't yeah don't don't pitch early on he got into this and I liked how do how did he put it like the entrepreneur superpower is being able to get people to believe in your idea I think there's there's definitely something to that so many entrepreneurs and founders that I know are like could be described and are described you know as that they're they're a force of nature you know they command the room blah blah blah etc those are really great qualities to have in certain contexts those are terrible qualities to take into discovery interviews it's just if you're not if you're not in sales mode then those things that if that describes you or if that describes your co-founder or your boss those things that are really really great in certain situations it is almost guaranteed to lead to bad I are unprofitable let's put it that way unprofitable ideas getting on to the product roadmap because the person on the on the receiving end of that conversation is just gonna like either go along with it because they're being you know steamrolled or hey convinced that yeah that is a great New Year's resolution for me or that is a better workflow that I should follow and genuinely believe that so just keep those keep those things in mind for sure and let's see we talked about the idea that even doing this as near to perfection as you possibly can all you're doing is reducing uncertainty you are not eliminating your risk or you're not eliminating all of the risk at some point you have to decide and make the leap are we going to start creating some paper prototypes here are we going to start writing some code or are we going to declare time of death on this idea there if you continue to just keep doing you know keep going research after research after research and looking for ways to invalidate the thing that you're doing you will eventually get there there are always said can I even say that I don't think I was gonna say there are always more ideas there are more reasons not to do something then there are reasons to do something even things that are good ideas and so if you're waiting for the reasons to do something to outnumber the potential reasons that you can find for it to fail or for it to be difficult then you'll you'll just never make the leap and so I like the idea of okay let's let's reduce let's reduce uncertainty let's confirm that this is not a completely doomed to fail stupid idea but it's at some point we got a we got a you know take it take a leap and start to try try some things yeah and his his point about you know our job it's our job to find the truth and not the customers responsibility to just speak it and and to offer it up that's pretty interesting it's a bit of a can be a bit of a treasure hunt even and even that's a it's a fine balance if we look at it as you know if our jobs to find the truth we look at it as a bit of a treasure hunt that's a that's a fine balance between knowing when to dig when to dig in and to keep searching and win at a certain point that becomes like forcing it which is going to create in the you know on the customers mind a sense of responsibility or a sense of oh I can tell they're really trying to make this work I want to offer something up to encourage them so that I can think of myself as a good person so there's there's a fine balance between knowing when to keep digging in I'll give you a so this one little example of of this is I mentioned in this interview with Rob I'm kind of exploring this idea of remote work doesn't have to be lonely remote were remote tools for remote teams definitely think there's something there I've been interested in employee engagement and you know mode of employee motivation that sort of thing for for a really long time and it's I've been doing these interviews trying to understand what are the problems that that remote first teams and distributed teams face in terms of employee engagement and employee communications that co-located teams don't face or don't don't face as in sharp of a relief so I've been doing those into doing some interviews around that I was talking to this manager of a team and just kind of asking like you know well so what are you currently using how are you currently solving that problem and and it sounded like they weren't actually using very many tools it was just like yeah we use oome to do video video chats we schedule those kind of manually it's like any other you know what other things are you doing to measure and monitor you know how your how your employees are feeling they're like maybe you guys might describe them as either kpi's what for measurement or just like culture vibe how are you doing any of those things a series of questions about that and I wasn't it's you just that they weren't doing anything so to stop there'd be like yeah this isn't this is not important enough for this company to be paying for it later on in the interview just to kind of get a sense of you know her awareness of tools that are available in the market is just like hey it's gonna list a bunch of tools here just let me know if you've heard of them or not and went through the list of know your customer or sorry I know your team office vibe tiny pulse 15 five and she was like oh yeah we totally use fifteen five that's so if I can't I can't believe I didn't say that earlier and we had this entire conversation about how about how they're using 15 five to keep you know tabs on their employees team members well-being and so it's just it's so fascinating like that without that additional a little bit of digging then that that piece of information would have gone completely unnoticed so anyway I just want to offer to offer that up that there's you know be as you're doing this be aware that you know sometimes you keep digging sometimes you let the answer lie as it is it is deaf I mean talking and getting qualitative feedback and information from conversations is far much more of an art than a science and it's so good to have guidelines and you know check sheets and suggestions that are offered up in books like the mom test by rob lien customer development by Cindy Alvarez and to keep those things in mind as you are as you are conducting them so yeah I'll offer those things I'll offer those things up and I'll drop a couple I've got a number of articles that I've written about this stuff as well I'll drop those into the into the show notes feel free to take a look at those reach out if you have any additional questions about that and if you're enjoying this show it would be super super helpful if you could leave a 5-star rating and review wherever you listen to your podcasts so if you're out for your jog right now if you're doing the dishes or piddling around and yard just take a couple of minutes and leave a rating and review it has a the reason that that helps is that it factors into how likely those directories are to make suggestions the search the search functionality across the directories is is is famously pretty bad but one of the things that is for sure consistent and truly does make a big difference is the number of ratings and reviews that show gets and so I could sure use some more of those would love your help in that way if you could take just a minute or two to do that would really appreciate it and if you do or if you got any questions at all about what you've heard on this episode or any other episode you can always find me on Twitter I am bewray BR h EA b as in bow r is in rudder HSN whole e as an i and a as an anchor thanks again so so much for listening and I will talk to you next 55:32 week


If you enjoyed this podcast, you would probably like my newsletter. Every Thursday morning, you'll get a “just long enough” email with my thoughts on startups, bootstrapping, remote work, and mental fitness.