Max Vorhauer

February 6, 2022

Reading list January 2022

I want to read one book per week in 2022. This blog series documents my monthly progress, summarizes each book and hopefully sparks a conversation between us. Here is January 2022.

The Mom Test – Rob Fitzpatrick

The premise of The Mom Test is relatively simple: if you ask your mom if your business idea is a good one, she will compliment you for such a brilliant idea. Everyone in sales knows that buyers are liars unless they spend there hard earned dollars for your service. But, of course, you have to talk to potential users when creating a new product or service. Rob Fitzpatrick offers a viable workaround on how to talk to your users and still get usable answers. The eponymous test is a set of three rules that should help to zoom in on the useful information and blend out all the fluff. First, you should talk about their life instead of your idea. This not only helps you to find the right context for your product, but it also enables you to find new opportunities. Second, you should ask about specifics instead of generics about the past or the future. Humans tend to have biases towards the past (especially recency bias) and also tend to overestimate effects for the future. So, get into the nitty-gritty details of specific events. Third, talk less and listen more. A professor once said in a lecture about user research “You have one mouth but two ears. This should be the proportion of talking and listening in interviews.”

Over 120 pages Fitzpatrick explains further recommendations (he confusingly calls rules) with close to real-life examples. From avoiding bad data to getting customer commitment, the whole process is covered. The spirit of this book fits nicely with the process Bob Moesta describes in Demand-Sided Sales, which in the end can lead to a very efficient product building process like Shape Up.

Recommended for: Everyone who starts a new company or product

The most memorable nugget: If people are not already trying to fix their problem with some workaround, they are probably not looking for your solution.

Product-Led Growth – Wes Bush

It seems Product-Led Growth (PLG) has been a buzzword for a few years now. Companies like HubSpot, Crazy Egg and even Salesforce claim that part of their immense success is following the dogma of PLG. I stumbled on the concept when I first tried to determine the right pricing for our product Mataono. Pricing should always follow your value metric. Sounds very marketing-y, so I decided to get behind the concept of PLG by reading the first book that plops up in Google: Product-Led Growth by Wes Bush.

Bush argues that most SaaS companies can abandon the traditional sales-led approach and navigate the market by using a product-led approach. Within this strategy your product is the star. Everything is resolved around your product – marketing uses freemium (or free trials) to get potential leads, sales is not really needed as users can upgrade their account themselves and engineering optimizes the value metric all the time. This works very well for B2C companies (when was the last time you spoke to a sales rep of Netflix to upgrade your account?), but also can work for B2B companies, if executed rightly.

The book can help you to define your strategy, build your foundation and ignite your product engine. Along the way you get a lot of useful tips and methods on how to find the perfect approach for you. Also, you get a lot of examples on how to reduce friction or when to send an automated message to the user. The most critical part is probably a quick time-to-value (the time needed for a user to first reach your promised value). This requires a frictionless onboarding but also good customer education (users need to understand your value first).

Recommended for: Everyone in SaaS marketing or product

The most memorable nugget: The MOAT framework to determine the right approach for PLG. Find the right go-to-Market strategy (dominant, differentiated, disruptive). Find out which Ocean you’re in (red and existing, or blue and new). Figure out how to reach your Audience (top-down or bottom-up). Determine Time-to-value for the different user types that visit your product (rookies, spoiled, veterans, or lost souls). 

The Experience Economy – B. Joseph Pine II & James H. Gilmore

It is time for a new economic offering that surpasses the value of our latest service economy. This is the gist of The Experience Economy. After commodities, goods and services, experiences follow as the new format that is staged by companies to multiply revenue. What sounds compelling in the beginning slowly resolves to the Disneyland-transformation of each business. The idea is fascinating: provide customers with unforgettable experiences and they increase their loyalty towards your brand. In our increasingly digitized business world where most interactions happen with anonymous “sign-up” buttons (see PLG above) this could be a refreshing take on customer experience. Unfortunately, the book was initially published in 1999 and focusses mostly on brick-and-mortar stores.

Initially, I was interested in this book because our product Mataono is created to improve customer experience. Customer experience describes the feelings of the customer during any interaction with a business. The authors even mention the niche of banking and finance, where Mataono is deployed. But their attention is about the economic offering in general and not in designing all the little micro-interactions that are part of the experience. Experience Economy is more a foundational work for the topic, mentioning things like staging, employee management and pricing without going into details.

Recommended for: Everyone interested in macro-economic business development

The most memorable nugget: Starbucks can ask for 100x the initial value of the coffee bean because it stages a compelling experience.

The Scout Mindset - Julia Galef

Very often discussions about ideologically charged topics run into a dead-end where both parties are angry about the other side. Oftentimes both parties think they are right and try to win the argumentation-war. This soldier-like mindset – defending own beliefs, persuading others – most of the time does not lead anywhere.
In her book, The Scout Mindset, Julia Galef argues for a fundamental change in our mindset. Rather than being a soldier that will defend every inch of belief, we should be scouts that explore the topic-landscape, always ready to question previous perceptions. Within the four parts of her book, the author tries to highlight the benefits of a scout mindset and provides certain techniques to become better.

First, we need to be self-aware of our flaws in thinking. One of our argumentation guardrails is bias. Often, we apply motivated reasoning to stay within our comfort zone. But with a few tests provided in the book (double standard test, outsider test, conformity test, …) spotting biases in our thinking will be easier. Combined with the trait to detect uncertainty we can uncover whenever we try to deceive ourselves.

Second, we don’t need to have a strong belief to motivate ourselves or convince others. We can cope with flaws in our argumentation and reality with other mechanisms than self-deception (i.e. make a plan or at least tell yourself that you can’t do more than your best). We don’t have be over-confident of our odds to inspire other people, we just have to acknowledge uncertainty. Research shows that social confidence (behaving self-assured) trumps epistemic confidence (certainty about what’s true).

Third, it’s okay to change your mind (even in ideologically charged topics). We get told it’s okay to be wrong, but often not taught how to be wrong. Of course, admitting being wrong and changing your mind does not happen radically, its rather a series of small updates of your mindset. Best ways to do this are leaning into confusions that rattle your thinking, or by escaping your echo chamber (not by just visiting other Facebook groups but by talking to people you find reasonable or share common ground with).

Fourth, we should not make beliefs to our identity or at least hold it lightly. By putting beliefs on a level of our identity, we make it difficult for ourselves to admit we are wrong our update our mindset. To test if your hold your identity lightly, you can use the ideological Turing test (“Can you explain it as a believer would convincingly enough that other people couldn’t tell the difference between you and a genuine believer?”).

This book makes you re-think your approach in each argumentation. Are you fighting for something or are you exploring different options? What are the motivations of the other participants? Is there an angle to their argumentation? It can be applied to so many situations that this is one of the most useful books I’ve ever read.

Recommended for: Everyone who has trouble saying “I was wrong, and I change my mind”

The most memorable nugget: Admitting that you are only a little percent confident that an idea will work out can still motivate others if you are self-assured that you give your best.