The graveyard of Silicon Valley is littered with dead startups that launched based on false positive feedback. How does one avoid the misdirection of enthusiasts trying to avoid awkward hurt feelings? Rob Fitzpatrick offers a cheat sheet of cardinal rules of informational interviewing while refining your business concept in The Mom Test. Below is the index card summary of the Rob’s rules for collecting honest feedback.
The Index Card Summary
1. Avoid mentioning your idea.
2. Avoid the “premature zoom”.
3. Ask terrifying questions that force you to focus.
4. Lower the stakes.
1. Avoid mentioning your idea
We are a social species - we like to be liked! As a result, if you signal to someone that it’s important to you that they like your idea/product/approach, you are biasing that person towards positive feedback. But soliciting only positive feedback, even if this is not your intention, will impede your ultimate goal of improving your idea/product/approach. So how to avoid bias? Ask questions related to the problem you want to solve rather than the solution you have in mind.
2. Avoid the “premature zoom”
Fitzpatrick calls jumping to tweaking your idea before validating it the “premature zoom”. You need to validate that the problem you are trying to solve is a real problem. Validate that your interviewee cares about the problem before you collect feedback on the nuances. Ask if they like ice cream before you ask if they prefer chocolate or vanilla (and don’t assume strawberry is out of the running, intuitive, though it may seem). This may sounds simple, but it’s actually very hard. Because we all carry many implicit assumptions with us. To succeed in a new venture, we need to identify all assumptions explicitly, and test each one.
3. Ask terrifying questions that force you to focus
Pre-plan up to three key questions for each of the stakeholder groups that will affect the success of your idea/product/approach. These might include customer segments and investors, managers and teammates, etc. Many of these questions should be ones you’re a little scared to hear the answer to.
If you get feedback all over the map, it may mean you haven’t meaningfully defined the use case of your idea/product/approach. You should have a specific user segment in mind. If your feedback is scattered with no common thread, you may be trying to cover too much.
4. Lower the stakes
Not every conversation needs to feel super high stakes. If you have your key questions at the ready, you can ask them whenever you bump into anyone connected loosely or tightly to your idea/product/approach. Don’t save all of your key questions for one big meeting with one critical stakeholder. This would make you vulnerable to perfectionism and procrastination.
Making good feedback less hard to come by
From 360 reviews to side hustles, we all need feedback; we can’t operate in a vacuum. Yet it can be easy to do so, to stay in our comfort zone of wanting to think our ideas and our work are 100% awesome all of the time. Unless you care more about results than your ego. And the easiest way to get there is to start asking the right questions early and often. So go forth and solicit feedback!