SaaS Idea Validation: How to Ask Customers Good Questions
Rob Fitzpatrick is a tech entrepreneur and author. He ran various tech startups for about 10 years, has raised funding in the US and UK and is a YC alum.
He's 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” and also the author of “The Workshop Survival Guide: How to Design and Teach Workshops That Work Every Time”.
One of the biggest challenges you face as a SaaS founder is validating your idea. It might be an idea for a new company or something that you want to change in your existing business.
You're excited about the idea. But how do you know if your prospective customers will love it too? And more importantly, how do you know if people will pay money for your idea?
Most founders know that they've got to talk to customers to validate their idea. But it's easy to screw up customer interviews and hard to do them right.
In this episode, I talk to Rob about his book The Mom Test and we go through a step by step process to improve how you run customer interviews.
We talk about how to ask good questions, how to avoid collecting bad data and how to know when people are lying to you or telling you what they think you want to hear.
By the end of this episode, you'll know how customer conversations can go wrong and you can do a better job at learning if really have a good idea or not.
I hope you enjoy it.
TranscriptClick to view transcript
Omer Khan 0:14
Welcome to another episode of the SaaS podcast. I'm your host Omer Khan. And this is the show where I interview proven founders and industry experts who share their stories, strategies and insights to help you build, launch and grow your SaaS business.
In this episode, I talked to Rob Fitzpatrick, a tech entrepreneur and author. Rob run, various tech startups for about 10 years, has raised funding in the US and UK and is a YC alum. He's 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. And he's also the author of the workshop survival guide, How to design and teach workshops that work every time.
One of the biggest challenges you face as a SaaS founder is validating your idea. It might be an idea for a new company, or something that you want to change in your existing business. You're excited about the idea, but how do you know if your prospective customers will love it too? And more importantly, how do you know if people will pay you money? Most founders know that they've got to talk to customers to validate their idea. But it's easy to screw up customer interviews and hard to do them right. So in this episode, I talked to Rob about his book, The Mom Test, and we go through a step by step process to improve how you run customer interviews. We talk about how to ask good questions, how to avoid collecting bad data, and how to know when people are lying to you, or telling you what they think you want to hear. By the end of this episode, you'll know how customer conversations can go wrong, and how you can do a better job at learning if you really have a good idea or not. So I hope you enjoy it.
Before we get started, there are a couple of things I want to tell you about. Firstly, I've created a great resource for you called the SaaS toolkit, which will teach you about the 21 essential tools that every SaaS business needs. You can get a free copy of the toolkit by going to thesaaspodcast.com. Secondly, if you need help building, launching and growing your SaaS business, then check out SaaS Club Plus, it's our premium membership and community designed to help you get the insights, motivation and support you need to succeed with your SaaS business. Just head over to SaaSclub.co to learn more. Okay, let's get on with the interview.
Rob, welcome to the show.
Rob Fitzpatrick 2:36
Thank you for having me. I'm excited to be here.
Omer Khan 2:38
So what gets you out of bed every day? What motivates you, you have a favorite quote or just in your own words, like what drives you?
Rob Fitzpatrick 2:45
I like making stuff. So at the moment is making books doing some writing, or sometimes there's, you know, big adventure big projects. Like recently I fixed up an old sailboat. And that was pretty exciting for you know, for grueling months, you know, whatever the the big project is at the time.
Omer Khan 2:59
So you have any interest story, you worked on a number of startups, you've written books, but right now, you're living the life right? Can you just tell tell the listeners what you're doing right now?
Rob Fitzpatrick 3:09
Yeah, it's one through the scalable startup stuff. I did my my 10 or 12 years of getting beat up running various different companies. And then maybe two years ago, I thought, man, I've like you know, it's time to relax for a bit. Let's take one of these mini retirements that everyone talks about. So I thought it would be maybe six months and it's been three years so far, man, I'm just floating off the the cash flow from old projects that I did before I moved out to Barcelona spent a year or two and my my little boat Yeah, and at the moment I hang out with my dog and cafes, and I read stuff it's great.
Omer Khan 3:38
It's awesome. I'm jealous. And I was telling you before we started recording that I was, I was a little disappointed when I watch one of your YouTube videos. And the story is basically that I was watching spider man homecoming yesterday, for the second or third time and love that movie. And then I watched a YouTube video and interview with Tom Holland. And he had an English accent. And was like what? You know, it's like, you know, he has this really convincing New York Brooklyn accent or something. And, and then the same thing happened with you, right? Because I knew you'd be living in England for many years. And so I'd been reading, you know, the Mom Test multiple times. And I always imagined, you know, Rob talking to me in this English accent. And then I watched a YouTube video and you didn't have an English accent?
Rob Fitzpatrick 4:23
Yeah, fairly America, I'm afraid, grew up near Miami. And then you know, did the Silicon Valley thing, the British accent never some kind, I'm afraid.
Omer Khan 4:34
So tell us a little bit about some of the startups and the sort of projects you've worked on.
Rob Fitzpatrick 4:39
Yeah. My first startup, we had a great time. We went through Y Combinator back in 2007, alongside Dropbox and Songkick and discuss and a whole bunch of great companies. We were kind of the black sheep, but no one talked about us. And we had, you know, it was a common story, right? We had funding from Great Investors, some of the best in the world, we had some good customers like MTV, Sony, the BBC, we were trying to figure out social advertising before Facebook or Twitter did, because the platforms existed, but they didn't have their advertising products yet. So it was very exciting and very big. And in the end, we move too slow, and we got crushed. But I had such a great time. And the whole reason I got into that was because I knew very early that I did not want to subject myself to the bureaucracy of corporate America. You know, I'd learned that from the movies. And I was like, Okay, so my entire career planning thing when I was in university was what can I do? That's not bureaucratic. And in my naive mind, I thought the answer was academia. So I started a PhD. And I was like, this is going to be great academia, pure battle ground with the minds, zero bureaucracy, and about six months, and I realized I had somewhat misunderstood the inner workings of that industry. And then about the same time I heard about startups, and I was like, Oh, this is so cool. Because I had learned to program because I wanted to make video games. But of course, that's a terrible industry. And academia was now out, as I'd learned, and so startups just see, like the least bad option. And once I got into it, I loved it. And I can't imagine doing something different.
Omer Khan 6:05
I love that the least bad option?
Rob Fitzpatrick 6:08
Yeah, it's still work, right? Work sucks. Like, it would be better if you weren't doing work. But if you have to do work, you might as well be startups.
Omer Khan 6:16
And, you know, the Mom Test like, how did you come to write that book.
Rob Fitzpatrick 6:20
So the Mom Test if anyone doesn't know, the idea is people say, don't ask your mom for feedback about your business idea, because she loves you. And she thinks everything you do is great. And so people say well go ask other people who aren't biased. But my argument and this came from the heart experiences of my first company is that everyone is biased, at least a little bit. And whenever you ask for feedback about your idea, your business, you're exposing your ego, which invites a lot of compliments. And it also invites a lot of opinions, which frankly, aren't that useful, either. And so my solution was not like don't ask your mom, my solution was will take responsibility for asking questions that are so good that even your own bias mother couldn't idea. So it's like it's called the mom test, because it's about making those questions.
Omer Khan 6:59
And and again, like, why did you write that book? How did it sort of come about?
Rob Fitzpatrick 7:20
Well, there's there's two answers to that question. Where the idea came from and how I actually wrote it. The idea was, honestly, just because I was getting my butt kicked by trying to have these customer conversations. And I didn't want to, you know, I'm a techie. I wanted to be programming. But Paul Graham, it said, I needed to talk to my customers. And my next set of investors, they said the same thing. And I was like, all right, I got to do this stuff. And so I bought a business suit. And I was so miserable, like, all day, and eventually the customer learning switches into sales. And I was doing these really awkward, suboptimal sales meetings, and I was reading so many books about how to try to do a better because I knew it wasn't quite working, something was going wrong. And like, the books just didn't click for me. They were all written for these people who already knew all the unspoken rules of the meeting. And it wasn't until the very end of that company, because we ran it for about four years, that first one. And I was like, okay, something starting to shape up. And one of my advisors a guy named Peter it really just wonderful guy and super talented businessman and investor. I told him I was going to be going in for a meeting with Sony Pictures. And he goes, Oh, in LA, I said, Yeah. And he's like, I'm in LA soon. Why don't you set up the meeting for the same dates that I'm in LA, and we can go into the meeting together? You know, cuz he was starting to get suspicious. He's like, he's giving me all these great leads, and I'm not getting enough sales out of them. And he's like, you know, there's something happening in the meeting that we need to understand better. And after watching me talk for about one minute, he just interrupted me and he took over the meeting. And I was so grateful, because seeing that difference between what I that was when I really realized what I was doing wrong, or what he was doing, right. And afterwards, he was like, ah, I know exactly how to explain to you what's meant to be happening. And he like, was able to translate all of the sales ideas into a language I understood having having seen me come at it from a techie, which I'm sure many technical founders do. And it like gradually as they tried to explain this lesson to other people. I'm like, this is really important. And like it works. Now I can do this thing. But I couldn't do just one day I just like, this metaphor dropped into my head. And I tried it. I was like, Oh, that was like a much easier way to explain it. And and so I kept using the metaphor, and I liked it. And then I ended up like, met this guy, his Twitter handle @startupRob, he's also a Rob in the London startup scene, very talented entrepreneur. And, you know, we're just getting drunk and having a good time was the first time we met. And, you know, it's like closing time at the pub. And he goes, he goes all, what are you doing for New Years, you should come to Austria with me and my wife's family. And I was like, yeah, that's gonna be amazing. And it's like, this guy, I don't know. And his wife I've never met and their whole family who I don't know. And, like, rationally that should have been deleted the next day, but we're like, Bush should we? And I was like, all right. It's really when it was so hilariously awkward. They were very generous and kind host. But they put me in this like cabin on the property, which I was happy with. Because, you know, it was a weird environment.
And I was just sitting there. And I'm like, all right, well, this is weird. And I've got like, 18 hours a day, and there's no internet. And there's nothing for me to do. And all I had was an empty notebook. And I just wrote the whole first draft of the book, like during that five day vacation, because I was just like, oh, what do I do?
Omer Khan 10:07
So it was kind of like that situation? Well, funny things happen in pubs after work in London. That,
Rob Fitzpatrick 10:14
Yeah, but especially as closing time and approaches, and do you just accelerate your drinking, because you know, you have to finish your drinking by closing time. So you're like two more, two more.
Omer Khan 10:24
And when people say that's when you realize the next day when people say, You must come and look me up, they don't actually mean, coming.
Rob Fitzpatrick 10:32
But we were both Americans. So you know, we felt like we could violate that British unspoken rule.
Omer Khan 10:37
Love it. Okay. So let's talk about that. Because you know, if people really want to understand this, well, they should get a copy of the Mom Test the book. And we can kind of point people to that at the end of the interview. But I want to try to use this time to pick your brain a little bit and sort of take away some of the key insights in terms of you know, how to talk to customers, some of the things you learn some of the things you put into the book that can help people who are listening today, and maybe struggling with the same thing that, you know, they're having these conversations, and either they don't feel like they going well, or they aren't going well, because maybe people are just telling them all the wrong things. And yeah, sure, I love your product it's great, you know how by totally bite. So let's sort of dig into that. And the first thing we want to talk about is like, you know, customer conversations going wrong, you talk about that in the book and sort of various other places, like tell us about some of the things that you've seen happening.
Rob Fitzpatrick 11:32
So by far the most common way these things go wrong. Okay. So the goal of customer conversations is to get what I call good data. Good data is like stuff that's completely reliable. It's bulletproof, you'd Bet Your Life on it, there's no way you're being lied to, which is kind of like facts about your customers life and worldview. It's like what they're already doing and why it's understanding them as a person. Or it's like cash in hand commitments, you know, something you can trust. And then on the other side, you got bad data, which is most commonly compliments and opinions. But it can also be like hypotheticals like, Oh, yeah, I would definitely use that like these fluffy, empty promises about the future. Because it turns out, people are super bad at predicting the future behavior, like how many times have you made and then broken and New Year's resolution, just like a sacred promise to yourself. And it blew my mind the first time a customer was like, if you build this, I will definitely buy it. You know, we talked to numbers, we talked prices, we had everything agreed, and then I built and they're like, Oh, I actually don't need it. I was like, What just happened? You know, I was so mad at them. But I realized it wasn't their fault. It was my fault. For kind of exposing my ego. It's like, Hey, I'm working on this great idea. Here it is, let me tell you about it. The entrepreneur superpowers that other people want to help you. But the dark downside of that superpower, is that really biases, the feedback you're getting, because you're exposing your ego, you get all these, these compliments, and opinions. And the biggest place this comes from is if you begin your feedback conversations by pitching your product or your business. Basically, as soon as you've pitched you're unable to learn about your customer, you can still learn about your product, you know, especially with stuff like usability tests, and all of that. But like, if I'm trying to learn like, does this customer think this problem is important? For example, are they going to spend money on it? Or is this $100 problem or $100,000 problem? If I begin that meeting with a pitch, I am never going to learn that information? Instead, I need to begin the meeting by asking about the customer and the customers lives, what they're already doing and why. It's like, if I'm trying to solve the email problem, I don't go, hey, I've got a great email solution. Let me tell you about it. I should start that by being like, man, email sucks. And the other person's like, yeah, I'm dying. And it's like, really tell me about that. Like, what are you doing? When's the last time it went horrifically wrong? How did you recover from it? Can I see your inbox right now? Can we walk through it? Can you talk me through a normal day? Can you talk me through yesterday? Can you talk me through a terrible day, as you get into these specific concrete behaviors in the past, there's no chance for them to hurt your feelings, because they're not giving their opinion about your idea. They're just telling you the facts of their own life. And that's where you get this crystal clear learning. But then, of course, the downside is you have to figure out what to do with that, which I think of is like buying someone a birthday present, you want to understand your customers, like your best friend. And when it's your best friend's birthday, they do not tell you what to buy them. They don't say I really want the new Pokemon game, can you get it for me, it's just you understand their life. And so you're able to surprise them with something that they didn't necessarily asked for, but what you know, accomplish their goals and solve their problems and all of that. And you might be wrong. And that's why you include a gift receipt. And that's why sometimes you need to go through product iterations. And but it's like it at least you're making these product iterations grounded in a good understanding of who it's for.
Omer Khan 14:34
Yeah, so I think you're right, because a lot of the times, it seems like pitching the product seems like an obvious place to start these meetings, until you've been through either the pain of it not working, or someone, you know, like yourself sort of helps people see why that's the wrong thing to do. But in the book, you talked about a number of questions like things like, you know, do you think this is a good idea? How, how much would you pay for this? And those typically are not going to give you good data? Right? This is, which is, what is.
Rob Fitzpatrick 15:07
Exactly any question, which is hypothetical, like, would you pay for it? Would you ever use something that did this? Like, can you ever see yourself like wanting to whatever, all of those future hypotheticals are a huge waste of time? you either need to look at people's existing behavior. Like don't ask them, would you ever use something that did this? Ask them like, what are you already doing about it? Like I can come to you and I can be like, hey, I've got a product and makes you live 10 years longer, it makes you sexier, a skinnier, you're going to get laid more. It's incredible. It only cost $60 a month, and like it takes about an hour a week for you to use and you're like, oh, wow, yeah, I would definitely do that. And then I'm like, all right. It's called the gym. And you're like, Oh, no, I don't want I don't want that. You can get really confused if you're only talking about products. Whereas if I'm like, hey, you're a person, like, what do you do to stay healthy? And you're like, Oh, nothing. I'm like, why not? You're like, I honestly just don't care about my health at all. I'm like, okay, that person's probably not a customer for health product. But you might give me other indications that that like you are really desperate for something. And it's like, the truth is in people's behavior, not in their opinions about the future. So yeah, all of those are bad questions, and then all the comments about your product, hey, I've got a great idea. What do you think be honest, it's like all that stuff, you're just inviting these compliments. And you kind of need to mentally divide your conversations into into two stages, you can do it during the same meeting. But it's like two stages. And the first is all about the customer. And you don't even mention your product, you're just trying to understand about their life. Once you're pretty sure you're talking to someone and you understand their problems, their goals, their decision making process, then you can shift into a more product centric conversation, you'd usually ask permission, because often you'll get these conversations by asking for a favor, you'll say, Hey, I'm really struggling to understand how the budgets in this industry work, you have so much experience, would you mind taking a coffee with me to spend 15 minutes to explain it, it would help so much like I don't have anything to sell you. And if you set up a meeting like that people love saying yes, and helping you out in a clear, specific non time wasting way. But then it's hard to be like Haha, got you buy my stuff. And so you ask permission to make a transition, you go like, I'm working on something in this space, like no worries, if not, but if you're interested in if you've got 10 extra minutes, I'd love to tell you about it and hear what you think. And if they give you permission, then you can switch into a product meeting. And at the end of those what people always end product meetings by giving you they go, Oh, this is so cool. I've never seen anything like it is beautifully designed, let me know when it launches. And that feels really good. Which leads into the second big mistake people make. Because what that is grammatically is that as a compliment, plus a stalling tactic, all your products so beautiful, let me know when it launches. It's like, Oh, this is so innovative, can you send me some more info, this is the easiest and most polite way for them to end the meeting without having to make any sort of decision and without having to reject to. And so if you finish the meeting at this point, you've really screwed up because you've accepted this non answer. And you don't know is that person a customer are they not was everything they said an empty compliment, or they actually super keen. And so what you have to do is just ask them for something that will only give you if they're serious. In businesses, this is often an introduction and intro to their boss and intro to their lawyers and intro to their tech team. That kind of reputational risk with consumers, it's more common that they'll give you like a pre order a deposit. Although it's admittedly harder with consumers sometimes there, you just need to build a prototype and try to get them to use it. But you're like you're asking for this currency. You're not being pushy, but you're giving them the opportunity to say yes or no. And that cuts through all of those product related bad data and bad signals.
Omer Khan 18:34
Yeah. So my takeaways from what you had in the book was in terms of like good questions, maybe they should be open ended questions, because you're trying to get the prospect to talk as much as possible.
Rob Fitzpatrick 18:46
Well, sometimes you can get someone to talk without an open question. So I tend to think of it it's like, it's about their life. I'm trying to get them talking about themselves. And if you need to do that with a sharp question, that's fine. Because once you get into the right area, people will keep going. So someone's like, let's say you're building a tool for people to manage their emails or whatever. You're like, oh, how's email? And they're like, it's great. I'm always an inbox zero. And it's like, Yeah, but it must go wrong sometimes. Right? And they're like, yeah, like, if I'm on vacation, and the hotel doesn't have good internet, it can get a mess. You're like, Oh, well, like, tell me about that. Talk me through everything. That's like a very focused question. It's not like how do you feel about email, you're like getting to a specific point. But then you're like, it's sharp, and it's about their life. And they can go on and on and on about that for ages, which is really valuable insight, you're wanting to try to see how they think about this stuff. You know, so for me, it's less open, closed. But yeah, in principle, I agree with you, you want them talking, you don't want yourself talking, right.
Omer Khan 19:44
And then the other thing is, it should be focusing on the past or their present, as opposed to talking sort of hypothetically about what they would do in the future. Because that doesn't really help us.
Rob Fitzpatrick 19:56
Exactly. The future is always ally at and sometimes it's hard, because you want to know about the future, especially if you're inventing a new category, like I was hanging out with some teams doing really cool stuff with 3d printing. And they're kind of like, they're saying, like, well, we can't ask people how they already do 3d printing, because we're trying to create a new behavior and define a new category. And I admit, that's fair, that's true. But my response there is not like ask them about the future, because they're, they're still lying, my response is like, well, you're just not going to be able to learn as much from conversations. So you're going to need to put a prototype and people's hands much earlier, you're going to be in for the long haul, because you're like watching behavior change, and society change and tech change. And it's like, that's a longer harder type of business to build. So it's like, not every type of idea and type of business can get very strong upfront validation, you know, sometimes you need to build the thing. Like, if you're making a video game, you can't run customer interviews and be like, do like having fun. Right? It just doesn't work. So there's no one magic tool you like us conversations where they make sense. And then you use the other other learning tools, where they're better suited.
Omer Khan 21:01
Yeah, yeah. Now breaking it up. And and, and I like to sort of think about that as well, in terms of, you know, one is just about the customer and the sort of the problem. And then the second meeting, is sort of more the product or the solution.
Rob Fitzpatrick 21:17
Yeah, or just the second stage at the same meeting. Like, it's sometimes you don't need a full meetings worth of time to do each stage. And also sometimes people, right, anyway, there's a bunch of reasons. But yeah, but definitely stages of the conversation.
Omer Khan 21:28
Yeah. But I would say like, I think a lot of people who are not comfortable with sales, once they understand the first meeting, and so the problem piece, become fairly comfortable with that, because they sort of realized I don't need to go and sell anything, I just need to go in and ask good questions that helped me understand how they currently do things. And just get as much detail as I can in terms of, you know, the process that they go through. But then once they have to switch to that next stage, whether it's a separate meeting or a second half of a meeting, I think that becomes a little bit difficult, because, Okay, great, I get to demo my product. And I always wanted to do that. And I finally get a chance to talk about my solution. But how do I actually figure out if they're going to buy and do I try to go for the clothes right there like because what what a good questions to be asking you at that point.
Rob Fitzpatrick 22:22
So part of this I struggled a lot with the the mindset about sales, I had this deep belief, the sales, a sleazy, but in most cases, like people are buying your stuff, because your stuff is good, and makes their life legitimately better. And if that's the case, then like, you kind of don't need to feel bad. Like, if you're selling a shitty products that is trying to trick people and steal their money. Like, then I understand why you feel bad about sales, and like you should maybe even reconsider what you're building. But if you're building something you believe in, and it's trying to, like help customers you care about. And if you're talking to people, as you're talking to them, you're like, wow, they really feel this pain, wow, they this would make their life so much better. It would almost be cruel of you to not offer to give it to them, right? Like, if I'm on fire, and you're secretly holding a bucket of water, it would be rude of you not to tell me about the water. And like, you know, give me a chance to buy it from you. Because I want that I'm on fire, you know, I need what you've got. And I found that made me a lot more comfortable is like, oh, wow, I'm not like stealing from them. It's like, I've discovered this burning problem that no one else is helping them with. Or I can help them with it better than anyone else. And like, yeah, of course, I'm going to do that. And you have to test their interest at various points throughout the conversation, you know, by asking them to give you something and at first, maybe they're giving you an introduction, or they're even just giving you more of their time with a clear next meeting, which has a clear goal. Don't just take like, let's just chat meetings forever, because that'll waste all your time. But if the meeting has a clear goal, then even that is a bit of a commitment. So it's like, Okay, I'm going to ask for an hour of your time than two hours of your team's time then an introduction to your boss, man, what can I ask for next, you know, to keep figuring out if you serious, like, oh, how about a deposit or a pre order. And I was kind of in that mindset. The first time someone wrote me a check for like, 20 grand. And I was like, Okay, great. They gave me 20 grand, that means they're pretty serious. And then I was like, Whoa, I just sold my products. You know, I just this I just made my first sales revenue. And I wasn't even thinking of its sales revenue. I was just thinking of it as as data that proved that they weren't bullshitting me that they were actually excited. And you can do that for small consumer products as well. In some cases, not all Kickstarter helps a lot if you can fit that. But I was talking to a guy and he had these 3d printed prototypes. They worked but like very crude looking for this this tech he was building it was a simple product. And he showed it to me. And I was like, Ah, that's so cool. Like, how much? Will you sell the prototype to me for like, will you sell me this prototype? Any laughs? And as I said, Why are you laughing? Like, was it that insulting have an offer? And he goes, No, no, no, it's just I sold like 12 of these things already. I was like, oh, what like a cool indicator, right? You're just demoing your product. And people like I have to have this now even in its crude and rough state. And it reminds me of my first company we were building. Before we switched into pure advertising. We were doing like playful advertising. And one of the ways was by building animation software, so kids could make their own animated cartoons. And there's a bunch of ways you can include brand presence and advertising and stuff in that in a fun way for kids, which sounds really evil. Now that I say it. I didn't enjoy that first company. It was an exciting business on paper. But advertising is not an industry I am passionate about anyway. So we built this tech. And we showed Paul Graham during one of our like, weekly meetings during YC. And he goes, Oh, you know, he looks at the website domain. He's like, all the website's live. And we're like, yeah, it's live, you know? And he's like, and it works. We just made a cartoon. I'm like, yeah, of course it works. And he's like, Oh, so you've launched and we said, No, no, no, we have not launched. And he goes, but people can use it, right? We're like, Yeah, but we're nowhere near ready. And he goes, he goes, I got a launch. You were like, No, no, and he's okay, whatever. And we leave in a couple hours later, he calls us and he's like, you guys get your computers. And I'm paraphrasing. This is like, 12 years ago, but and we're like, yeah, and he's like, why what happened? He's like, I just launched you, you're on TechCrunch. We're like, haaa…. You know, we I was so mad. I was like, How could you do this to me ruin my company. And then like, we started getting all these emails from people being like, Hey, can we put our band in this? Can we put our product in this? Like, can the characters were our clothes? I was like, Oh, wow. And we got these scathing bug reports. Also, we got both, we got really passionate people and people getting angry at us and telling us how to make it better. And like, from there, the product did start getting better. And I was like, Oh, yeah, it's like, it's good to get people using it. And, yeah, you don't have to do it quite that publicly and dramatically. I'm not saying to throw it straight on TechCrunch. That was a bit much, maybe. But it's like you can do a way before you think you can. Like, if you fail on the internet, the worst that happens is people don't see it. So it's like, no one knows about your failures on the internet, unless you're already famous. So you can just kind of keep trying until people do notice it.
Omer Khan 26:58
Right. Right. And I think go back to that thing about kind of getting over sales and not thinking of it as being sleazy. One of the things I've seen really good salespeople do, which I think is, you know, basically, what you're talking about here is is you spend time understanding the prospects problems really well first, before you even talk about your product. And then when you do talk about your product, you're showing them how it's what if it doesn't solve their problems, don't give them the demo, or don't talk about it. But if it does, then you're going to sit down with them. And you can say, look, here's how this can help you solve all the pains you've just told me about. And so it's not like you have to sell in the sense of persuade people or force them or anything. It's just you're just showing them how you're solving the problem. And if you've done a good job with that, then I think the the last part in terms of actually closing becomes a lot easier.
Rob Fitzpatrick 27:52
Yeah, you do still need to ask for money, which is scary. So what I like to do is what I'm planning my meetings, so like at the start of each week, plan three big things and trying to learn about like big high level learning goals, like I need to learn what their budgets are for this. And if the budget even exists, that might be one of them, I'd have three of those. And then I also have like, if a meeting goes really well, what am I going to ask for at the end of it. And I had that written down on a piece of paper. And it's like in every meeting, I take it's like a checkbox. It's like, did I asked for the thing, and just having that there and having thought through it in advance, because if I leave myself to improvise, I'll always take the easy way out, I won't, I won't ask the hard question. So that that bit of planning really helped me. And also it lets you choose something that's appropriate. Like, if you're just starting out and your idea stage, it would be a little bit cheeky to ask someone to give you a big pile of money. So like what you asked for should be appropriate to how far along you are, and you know, how mature the offering is, and all of that, and also be okay with being sub optimal. So for example, I was talking to like a real hustler of a salesperson the other night. And he was saying, like I said, Yeah, if people don't want it, I leave them alone, because I'm more interested in understanding their existing, like how much they care. If they don't care, I don't want to chase them. Because I want to find a customer or a product that they really do care. You know, I want to find that fit. I don't want to force it on to like a lukewarm audience. Whereas he was used to kind of optimizing sales processes and much more mature organizations, he's like, No, you keep chasing them until they explicitly tell you know, and that I'm like, less comfortable with, at least in the early stages, but I'm okay with leaving money on the table. Because the money isn't the goal for early stage sales. The goal is the learning. It's learning if you've got the right customer and the right features, and the right marketing language and all of that if people don't care, you don't need to force them. You're just like, oh, cool, know, we're screwing something up. And it's great. If you can figure out specifically why they don't care, you won't always be able to, but it's like you're not trying to push them into buying something they don't care about, you're just trying to understand the nature of their not caring. And once that sunk into my head as well, I'm like, Oh, I don't need to trick people, I just need to understand them. And it's like, we already know how to understand people, we understand our friends, we spend the time to get to know our friends. And that the total you want to take when talking to customers is the same. It's like, Oh, this seems like a big problem. Tell me how you think about it. Talk me through that. And it's like, it's a very human conversation. You know, it's not like an on a scale of one to five, how important is this? It's like, it's naturally you're trying to you wouldn't talk to a friend, you on a scale of one to five, how upset are you about your recent breakup? Like that's not how we gained human understanding, you know,
Omer Khan 30:21
Right. Now, you also talk about, like, how to deal with tough conversations, when maybe you're talking to someone who seems bored, or is being hostile or offensive, like, what are some tips that you can share? If people find themselves in those situations,
Rob Fitzpatrick 31:00
This also comes down to stage. So later stage, there's a bunch of tactical ways to deal with the objections and blah, blah, blah. But if you're an early stage entrepreneur, then like, great news, them being mean, has given you the answer, they don't care that much. And so you can just never talk to them again, or like put them on a list and loop back to them. In six months, I had one of the worst meetings I ever had. It was just set, it was completely the wrong meeting, but a really important person and made the introduction. So I was sitting down with this person. And within like five minutes, we realized the meeting just never should have happened. Right? Like a super senior executive of one of the UK is biggest creative agencies, like, you know, 10s of thousands of employees this huge deal. And I'm like wasting an hour of her time in this meeting. And after five minutes, I was like, I could just see the way the rest of the meeting was going. And I was like, it's not my job to convince her right. And I was like, I'm so sorry that like this happened, it was totally My bad. I like didn't describe what what was happening. When I asked for the intro. Let me just leave now. And you can get an extra hour on your lunch break. And she was like, blown away. She was like what no one's ever left, like, voluntarily left a sales meeting early. And I was like, yeah, I'm really sorry, we shook hands. And I left. And a week or two after that, she started making incredible intros that were relevant for me, because she was just so great grateful that I had like, respected her time and just gone on my way and let her get on with her work. So if you treat people with respect, like even if you really screwed something up, it's like, it's not a big deal. And also people's lives are going on, like, I know, your startup is the end of the world for you. But for someone else, if they just spend an extra hour in the morning traffic, because like a highway construction, that is a bigger deal to them than your startup. So just because of the stress of their morning, they might end up being really mean or rude to you. So also, like, you know, people's lives are big and complicated. Maybe their kid is sick and in hospital, and it's like someone's rude to you, or they cancel the meeting at the last moment, just let it roll off you like it doesn't matter, because it's not them judging you. It's just like, they've got a lot of shit going on in their lives. And you're you're fitting into that in some small way.
Omer Khan 32:45
Yeah, that's awesome. And I think also this idea of like, respecting your time and people's time that if you just feel like you have a clear sense that this is not going the right direction, then it's not a bad thing to cut it short. It reminds me. So it was slightly different situation. But I remember the guy, this was probably about 15 plus years ago in London, that I was working at big company and was interviewing, somebody said, This guy came in sat down, you know, did the thing to kind of get him feeling comfortable and everything. And then I'd sort of asked him a question. It was so it was a technical question. And he was like, Ah, you know, I don't reassure or who's kind of struggling with it. And I was like, okay, you know, benefit of the doubt, no problem. Let me ask you something else. And so I kind of asked a slightly different question. And, and he couldn't answer that. And, and I was like, you know, I was like, I'll make maybe the guys just nervous. Right? So maybe I just need to just kind of, you know, take it easy. And I kind of asked him more gentle a question. So I asked him a third question. And he couldn't answer. And then he was just like, he just got up. And he was like, well, I obviously haven't got the job, not gonna waste and I believe it was, like, 10 minutes, and he was out. And I really,
Rob Fitzpatrick 33:58
Yeah, poor guy. Hey, I'm sure you found a great opportunity. So it sounds like a stand up.
Omer Khan 34:06
So let's talk about like sharing the learning. So you've done all of this stuff, you've gathered a lot of data. What are some good takeaways in terms of sharing that what you've just learned with your team or your co founder or whatever.
Rob Fitzpatrick 34:20
So you want to take some kind of notes, because otherwise when the data is rattling around in your head, your brain contorts it and introduces new biases. So try to take down notes, if you can, like a few exact quotes with like a smiley face or a frowny face next to them will go a long way toward letting you remember and rebuild the conversation. I personally don't like typing in meetings, because I find it like puts up this physical wall between you and the other person. So I like to sacrifice some note taking speed and exchange for keeping it casual and more human. And I also don't record some people do but I found I never listened to the recordings. And I'm like, Well, if I'm not going to listen to them, I don't really need to have them. So and also, my team's not going to listen to them because they're busy. So we tried doing recordings for a while and then sending them off to a virtual assistant to be transcribed. And then we had these massive text documents of all of our customer conversations. But again, no one took the time to read them. So we're like, all right, well, that's not very helpful either. And what we eventually settled on both gosh, there's an in between stage where we would interrupt each other. So this was from a later team, which is a customer development a lot more seriously. But there were still for founders, and we were all talking to customers. So we had a lot of data coming in. And it was a mix of learning and sales, we had some existing products that we were selling, and we had new products we were building. And so we're like, okay, we need to share this stuff. So we've come home from an important meeting we'd get everyone would be like, Hey, this is what I learned. But it was so disruptive. So interrupting. And so we set up a weekly call, and it was like our customer update call. And basically, we just go around and each of us would kind of rebuild. So not say the conclusion of the meeting, not like I had three meetings, they went well, rather, we'd be like I talked to this person, they said this, and I asked this and they said this, and we'd actually kind of give like the summarization play by play. And we do that for all the important conversations of the week, the conversation only took about an hour. And it meant that then like the raw data from our customers was now in the whole founding teams head. And we could all kind of now make strategic decisions from being on the same page. And after that, we just threw away our customer notes. Basically, they were in a file somewhere, but we almost never reference them. It's like it helped us make the next set of decisions.
Omer Khan 36:23
That's great. So that's the Mom Test the book. And I would highly recommend if you haven't checked it out, go and get a copy. And people can go to momtestbook.com or I think they can just grab a copy on Amazon, right?
Rob Fitzpatrick 36:36
Yep, absolutely. Other the Yeah, themomtestbook.com links to everything. The audio book is releasing any day, finally, five years later.
Omer Khan 36:45
Is that you? did did did you narrate that?
Rob Fitzpatrick 36:47
Yeah. So if you want four more hours of my sonorous voice, the the audio book is for you.
Omer Khan 36:52
All right, let's get into the lightning around could ask you seven quickfire questions. So you ready? Yeah. Okay, what's the best piece of business advice that you've ever received?
Rob Fitzpatrick 37:03
Cofounders are a lifelong asset. And you can't treat cofounders like a mail order bride, you can't be like I need I want to start a business. So I need a blank co founder, let me go to this event and find one or meet one or whatever. It's like a relationship you build over your life, like getting married or something. So you should date lots of potential cofounders. When you see someone really smart go out of your way to get to know them. Someone gives an incredible talk at a local Meetup group or you see someone at your university who always makes incredible projects, it's like go find that person, find an excuse to do a weekend project with them. We can projects are the startup version of dating, it's like how you figure out who you're going to marry, you know, who you're going to give equity to. So like, do that go out of your way for it, and then keep them for your life, because they'll normally be busy maintain those relationships. But when you want to start your next business, as long as one person in your like network of potential co founders is interested, then you know, that's enough.
Omer Khan 37:58
Yeah, that's great advice. I actually find that myself, as well as that, you know, I've interviewed over 200 people on this podcast. And there are certain some people that I don't know if I'd ever work with, but they're just people that there's something about them, right in terms of whether you click with them, or when you have a conversation with them, you tend to come up with better ideas. And it's always good to make the effort to stay connected with people like that, even if you haven't never end up doing anything with them. Yeah,
Rob Fitzpatrick 38:28
exactly. And it's my main reason for doing side projects. Actually, it's like less than I want to do the side project, I really don't need more distractions. And it's more just like, I want something small to get some experience working with a particular person. So we you know, we figured out how it works. It's like, let's just go on a date. Let's see, if we like it, then we can put it in our pocket for later and decide if we ever want to pick it up. Seriously. Yeah.
Omer Khan 38:48
What book would you recommend to our audience and why?
Rob Fitzpatrick 38:51
I was trying to think of what would be interesting ones that you guys might not have read. So from the business side, the E myth revisited is incredibly and it's written for like cafe owners and small business owners. But it's about these traps of doing everything yourself as the founder. And it's about a structured way to start building the processes and then hiring the people to do stuff so that your business runs as a bunch of processes. Not that isn't as critical in tech businesses, because your tech kind of acts like the process, but it's still fascinating to understand. And it really changed my like understanding of management and culture and how I wanted to build my companies. And then on a personal side, I would recommend how to get rich by Felix Dennis and the title is very tongue in cheek, it's a billionaire British magazine and newspaper tycoon who miraculously survived decades of incredible drug abuse. He said, in 110 year period, he spent 10 million pounds on nothing but drugs, alcohol and prostitutes. Yeah, or maybe was 100 million pounds in 10 years. It was some just incredible some. And it's like such an interesting book because it gives you the mindset and this inside view into this unabashedly greedy and materialistic hedonist. But it's also written very much as like in this like real character reveal. And he's aware of the trade offs he made. And he's like, he's aware that he gave up having kids so that he could pursue money and all this stuff. And it's intermixed with this really bizarre, almost like surreal business poetry. It's such a fascinating book to read, and like a glimpse into the extreme money mindset. I really loved reading it. It was It was great.
Omer Khan 40:28
I have both books, and I highly recommend them to as well. Yeah, great recommendations. What's one attribute or characteristic in your mind of a successful entrepreneur.
Rob Fitzpatrick 40:37
So this is possibly a bit controversial, and I may be stepping on myself by suggesting it. But I think it's really useful to get comfortable making and spending money, because money has a large, like, so. One of the advantages, I think of rich kids getting started and startups, the connections, sure, like they already know people who are important and powerful. But I think another huge benefit of being a rich kid is that you're comfortable with large sums of money, like saying the words the price tag is $55,000 does not give them pause there, like of course is $55,000, you're lucky it's not $500,000. And just like that emotional comfort, we're getting to the point where it's not like, Oh, my gosh, I've raised investment, that's an incredible Well, it is a moral burden. But like, if you can reach the point where it's like, that feels rational, and you can make that decision rationally instead of emotionally and especially the decision to shut down a company after you've taken investment, or after you've sunk money into it, it helps so much with like with sales with, there's also all these little an early stage companies, like a friend of mine, she's spending something like not very much, he's doing a great job. But she's spending like 3000 pounds a month to kind of keep her like bare bones team running and the software getting developed. They got their first one or two trial customers. And she's like, doing everything herself, because she's very conscientious of a runway, but she had the opportunity to spend like 1000 pounds and basically save two months. And she was hesitant, because she's like, Oh, it's 1000 pounds. I don't know if I can do that. I should just do it myself. It's cheaper. And I was like, it is not cheaper, because you're already burning 3000 a month just staying alive, right? So spending that thousand is actually saving you 5000 like that's a profit that's like a profitable way. And the like the emotional reaction to money was preventing her from seeing the obvious, correct answer. I don't know how you do it. For me, freelancing helped a lot. Because I was like, Oh, I can really quickly make money through freelancing. This is great. So I didn't bother making lots of money. But like, I knew in my heart that I would never be broke again. Because if I was broke, I would just go and freelance. And it's like, and that's where I turned the corner. And I started being able to be rational instead of emotional with that stuff.
Omer Khan 42:51
Yeah, that's a really good insight.
Rob Fitzpatrick 42:52
Also, going out of business, the first time helped as well. Get you over some of your ego.
Omer Khan 43:00
What's your favorite personal productivity tool or habit?
Rob Fitzpatrick 43:03
Personally, if you're a creative if you're programming, writing anything like that, I wake up, I do my creative work first. I like to work up until lunchtime, basically, and I don't check. Actually, I say this is a bit hypocritical, because for the last week, I've been a huge mess on this. But when I'm in like a good span of creativity, it's like no email, no text messages, know WhatsApp, no phone notifications, it's just like, wake up to my creative work for three solid hours, then, okay, it's lunchtime, turn on the communication, check WhatsApp, do meetings, never scheduled meetings for the morning just like get that creative work done first. And then on a team side, what we did is, every time anyone on our team ever needed to interrupt someone else on the team, we treated that as a failure that we needed to do root cause analysis on. So if I have to tap you on the shoulder and go like, Hey, what did that client want? Or like, Hey, where's the documentation for this, this, whatever, that interruption, we're going to root cause it and we're going to build the process and the documentation or the tool chain or the redundancy so that I never need to interrupt you. Because we were a remote team. And we were just getting torn apart by interrupting each other constantly. And it's like, Okay, this is a crisis. And we're not going to be able to grow the business if we keep having to do this. And it's been great. That was like two businesses ago, and it's something I've kept doing, and that that's such a difference.
Omer Khan 44:18
Yeah, that's a really good discipline to have. What's a new crazy business idea you'd love to pursue if you had the extra time?
Rob Fitzpatrick 44:24
I don't know if I could do this. But I would love to have a crack at reinventing like high school education, in person like in the classroom and finding a way to make it higher quality education and also more scalable. For me, it's not about replacing the teacher, it's about empowering the teacher so that they can do a better job with more students. Because like teachers now do a great job. If they have 20 students, they struggle if they've got 30. And it falls apart if they've got 40-50. And beyond that. And I think with the right tools, like a bit of curriculum, a bit, I have no idea what it would be. And it's almost presumptuous to suggest a solution. But I would love to wrestle with that. I've kind of tabled it until I have kids. But I could see myself like when I have kids, and I'm like, engaged already with their schools and stuff wanting to take a crack at that one. And who knows, there's obviously a massive business there if you could figure out meaningful improvements.
Omer Khan 45:14
Yeah, yeah. What's an interesting or fun fact about you that most people don't know?
Rob Fitzpatrick 45:18
I got a little sailboat I love sailing. This Hippo is currently in the middle of France, up the top of a mountain,
Omer Khan 45:24
Rob Fitzpatrick 45:25
Which is not where a sailboat is meant to be. But I thought I could quickly get it from England to Spain, by taking down the mast and driving it through the French canals. But I had not realized how slow boats are and how many locks there are on the canal. I'm on this stretches of canal at the moment called the Nevernais, 200 kilometers long with 170 locks. So you go like 1.2 kilometers, then you stop for 30 minutes, climbing ladders, throwing ropes, cranking lock gates. It's just brutal. I did it for like a month solid last year, and I only got halfway. So I'm about to have to go back and finish the journey. But I'll be so excited once I got through to the med.
Omer Khan 46:00
So wait, you're in Barcelona, you go to France, you travel on your boat a little bit at a time and then you come back?
Rob Fitzpatrick 46:06
Yeah, well, I did have I did have a bit last summer and I'll finish the journey this summer. My average speed across land was like two kilometers per hour. Once you figure out all the stops, I was getting overtaken by old people having their like afternoon stroll. It was so painful.
Omer Khan 46:24
And finally, what is one of your most important passions outside of your work?
Rob Fitzpatrick 46:36
I'm writing I mean, part of the reason I took this mini retirement and will hopefully it goes on indefinitely. It sounds like well, what would I be doing? If I was retired? Like if if I was rich, if one of my companies had accident for massive songs, like they were profitable, they would give me a couple years or whatever. But they weren't like, you know, never work again money. And it's like, what would I do? If I did have that? You know, and I'm not the San Francisco sore to just keep going bigger and bigger and bigger. I was like, What would I do with my free time? And at first I thought that the answer was hedonism. So I was like, all right, right? Well, that's not expensive. I can drink and do drugs and sit around all day. That's like easy. So I tried that for a year. And I was like not all it's cracked up to be. And then I was like, Okay, well what else would I be doing? And I was like, Well, I'd be writing, you know, I'd be making stuff. You know, I'd be working on fun little projects with my friends. Like I made a board game and we kick started it like with a buddy of mine. It's like, I've been doing stuff like that. So I can actually remember your original question now. What was it so often by like life realization journey rants,
Omer Khan 47:28
Your passions outside of your work?
Rob Fitzpatrick 47:29
Oh, yeah. Yes, I came to this I like filter through like, and my passions were what I thought they were and it ends up being sailing, which I already talked about and writing. And so every day now I'm like, okay, what's like a little business I can build around writing. So I started another book about designing running workshops, because I really like education as well. And it's so great. It should be out pretty soon, actually. It's called the workshop Survival Guide. So if you're in that space, you ever need to run run workshops. You can give that one a Google. Yeah, it's like, it's great. That's the work I wanted to do. So probably writing is my passion and sailing, normal life stuff. Got a dog, dog.
Omer Khan 48:04
You're all set. Awesome. Thanks for joining me, Rob. It's been a pleasure talking to you. And you know, thanks for sharing some of the insights and all the great stuff that you've shared in the The Mom Test. As I said, people can go to Amazon or momtestbook.com. And if they want to get in touch with you, I guess going to robfitz.com is the best way.
Rob Fitzpatrick 48:24
Yeah, I'm rather on robfitz.com Or I mean, gosh, my phone numbers on the website. I'm not suggesting you call me but I'm just saying I'm fairly easy to track down via Google.
Omer Khan 48:34
Awesome. Thank you. It's been a pleasure and wish you all the best and good luck getting that, that boat home.
Rob Fitzpatrick 48:40
Yeah, hopefully down the mountains easier than up I'm sure it won't be I'm sure it's exactly the same, but we'll give it a try. And good luck to all the listeners. I wish you guys well with your businesses. And if there's anything I can help with, shoot me a note.
Awesome. Thank you. Cheers. Bye.
Omer Khan 48:57
Thanks for listening. I hope you enjoyed the interview. You can get to the show notes as usual by going to thesaaspodcast.com, where you'll find a summary of this episode, and a link to the resources we discussed. If you enjoyed the episode, then head over to iTunes and subscribe to the podcast and consider leaving a rating and review to show your support for the show. If you're not already in iTunes, just go to thesaaspodcast.com and click the iTunes button. Thanks for listening. Until next time, take care
- “The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don't Work and What to Do About It” by Michael E. Gerber
- “How to Get Rich” by Felix Dennis