The Mom Test and Sparking Behavior Change: ‘How I Work’ EP16 with Sean Higgins (BetterYou)

Sean Higgins is the founder and CEO of BetterYou, a cutting-edge AI companion that helps users spend more time on the things that matter despite the noise of our digital era. He’s a serial SaaS entrepreneur in the HR and productivity space with expertise in behavior change.

How I Work, Episode 16 with Sean Higgins (BetterYou)

Sean joins Josh Becerra in episode 16 of How I Work to share marketing and SEO growth ideas like how “The Mom Test” can get to the core of what people really think about your product or service and the value in zeroing in on your customer journey to test brand messaging. Plus:

  • How the Keyword Golden Ratio helps him decide which topics to write about for SEO
  • 3 answers to have when approaching buyers: Why anything? Why us? and Why now?
  • The 3 ingredients needed to change human behavior: Motivation, Ability, and Prompt

Learn more about Sean Higgins and BetterYou:

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Transcription: How I Work, Episode 16 (Sean Higgins, BetterYou)

Josh: Hi everybody. This is Josh Becerra from Augurian. I’m here with Sean Higgins, founder and CEO of BetterYou. And this is like an AI companion to help you reach your goals, which we all want to do for sure. So that’s very cool. It’s a cool project. Can you just start by telling us a little bit about your story, like how you got all the way here toBetterYou? 

Sean: Of course. So I’ve been building companies for the last 10 years, in this space of inner HR and productivity. And after my last company sold, I found myself on my couch with this guy in my hand, going through work email at a point in life where I didn’t have a job. And I was just going on autopilot. And I thought to myself, I’m using my email right now, the same way I’d use Instagram or YouTube. And how often are we spending our day on things that are intentional versus going down these rabbit holes, right? And so BetterYou is really born from that type of moment of wanting to know where my day goes? Am I actually spending my time on the things that matter? 

Josh: Is it like the anti TikTok?? I’m sure you’re like TikTok is fine but just in doses. 

Sean: I think when it comes to our relationship with devices, it’s evolved a lot over the last several years. And initially in this space, the attention economy space, there were a lot of people who said, oh, the answer is we need to use our devices less and less. And that’s continued to be a very losing battle. The amount of time people spend on devices has gone up every year since 2007 every year. And so you get more about how we can have a healthy relationship with our technology and our devices. So the enemy isn’t TikTok or Instagram or Facebook in as much as we are not being wise with how much time we’re spending on TikTok and Instagram and Facebook. And that’s really what we help people measure. We have to measure and manage their time because you can still check out your friend’s feed or see that new video or that new dance, whatever, as long as you’re doing the other things in your life that are important too. 

Josh: Yeah. No, I think it’s really great to have those like reminders. And that’s what BetterYou is all about. This is a lot about marketers and marketing. So some of our conversation is going to steer in that direction. And one of the things that we talked about a little bit was this idea of the mom test when you’re going out and seeking customer feedback. I thought that was cool. So tell us about your experiences doing customer feedback and what you mean by the mom test. 

Sean: Of course. So I’m a big believer that it doesn’t matter how much sense it makes on your whiteboard. It matters how much sense it makes to the customer. They decide what’s right. And what’s wrong. And it’s really our job as marketers, as founders to find them and ask those questions. And so the mom test is a framework that anybody can use to try to get to the core of what people think about your product or your service. And I can’t take full credit. The mom test is actually created by one of the founders of pebble. And the reason it’s called the mom test is because you wouldn’t pitch your startup to your mom because she loves you too much to tell you it’s terrible. She will always give you good feedback. Great. That’s great, Sean. Wow. And so the mom test is a series of questions and methods that you can use to try to find the truth.

In a world where that person meeting you for coffee, probably isn’t going to tell you that your product is bad. And so it’s about starting really broadly. So one example of something I learned from the mom test. The types of questions you want to ask. Cause you want to ask some general questions and then narrow in, for example, Josh, I could ask you, what’s your favorite bagel? Now you might tell me it’s apple cinnamon or blueberry. And then I make a place that’s making all these bagels and I find out you hate bagels, right? It’s like your least hated one. Yeah. And it’s, 

Josh: I’m more of an English muffin guy. 

Sean: There you go. Of course. Got to start off the day, right? Absolutely. So the idea behind the mom test is, okay, what are some questions that I can use to start really broad? So I might ask, What did you do today? What was hard about that? Like those types of questions to understand what you are really struggling with? And then as I narrow into the pain point, I might ask further questions. Oh, what did you search on Google when you encountered that? And the amount of time and headache, this has saved me is paramount. I can’t tell you the number of people who would say, “oh, I would buy this as a consumer.” And they haven’t Googled free health and wellness apps. Yeah, of course I say, okay, you’re not really a custer mind if the pain isn’t actually painful enough for you to do a Google search because that’s the square one for most people. Yeah.

Josh: You’re talking a lot about questions, right? And one of the things that’s been super impressive for, in my opinion, about BetterYou is that you’ve gone from like zero to 200 MRR really quickly. One of the things that came up in our conversation prepping for this. That there’s a series of questions, three key questions. You said that when approaching buyers that you need to know the answers to. So tell me about what those questions are and why that messaging is so important. 

Sean: And one quick clarification, before we jump to. So we’re on the way to 200k. We’re not there yet. We’re not quite to 200k yet. We’re on the way to 200k. That’s one of our areas this year. Anyway, So when it comes to press, we’ve grown a lot. Absolutely. Zero to 60 real quick on the speedometer there. Yeah. The three questions are, why anything? Why us? And why now? And the reason why these three questions are so important is because they all answer different questions in your buyer’s journey. The first question is, why anything, why does my product category matter? So in a world of black books with Rolodexes, why do I need a CRM? And if you can’t answer that question, the conversation’s over, it’s all over the next one.

Josh: So it’s like a defining category, like you need to be able to show, what is the value of the category?

Sean: At ILO my company prior to BetterYou, you know, I encountered people who had not used video. They had a bunch of training in physical binders or word documents and PDFs. And they expected that to be the way it continued. Right. And so if you can’t explain why your category matters, you’re toast that those people will never move up the funnel of innovation.

Right? The second question is why us? As a founder, most people know why us, why us is, you know, it’s us versus them. These are the other solutions people are looking at. Here’s what they’re looking at. And so this could be about a feature that you had. It could be about a worldview that you have. That’s very different from what other people are building towards.

It could be about costs. Maybe, you know, Walmart is a popular brand right there. It’s not  like you can get completely different things at target than Walmart. It’s just that Walmart is doing it a little bit cheaper, maybe at the expense of their suppliers. But anyway, so you could differentiate it’s differentiation.

It’s why us? The last question is the hardest one. That’s the why now? Why should I work with you today instead of six months from now?  That’s a big question. And so you feel like all of those things have to be present in messaging somehow when you’re going out to market, especially with something new.

So if you’re creating a landing page, if you’re working on an email, right, we want to see how you are pulling these different pieces together? You have to at least be answering one of the questions. And the nice thing about the three questions is when you lose an opportunity or you lose a prospect and you get that feedback, you ask them, Hey, you know, why don’t you want to go forward?

Oh, you know, I actually. I have zoom. I don’t need a video platform for training. I have zoom and you go, well, I was going to schedule a zoom meeting with you. So I must not have explained our category well enough, because you think we’re this and we’re that. Yeah. Or you might see something where said, you know, I understand we’re going with this wellness thing.

Oh, okay. They know what we do. They understand better use value property. They’re picking something else. Why is it that our differentiation isn’t striking a cord? The last one though, with the why now, usually it’s harder to get feedback because those conversations don’t end. Right. They go on and on and on and on. And you’re, it feels like you’re working a prospect from 2019.

You wake up it’s 2022. You’re like in Groundhog day. 

Josh: Right. 

Sean: And so for us, you know, we really encourage folks to use those feedback points, to try different messages. Right? Maybe that’s why it didn’t work. I might try a different value prop. Maybe we have a different feature. We should lean on the next demo or next landing page. And so it’s a way to iterate and continually test your messaging as you grow. 

Josh: Yeah. And then you kind of figure out once you got it, like now we can start really pushing on this key messaging. 

Sean: Of course, of course. 

Josh: I think that’s super smart. Yeah. 

Sean: It’s, it’s easy to think that you, you know, and you, you have to start here. You have to have a theory about the customer, but you validate that theory by getting their actual feedback, getting on the phone, getting in front of the product and then having them tell you, Hey, this is great, or I’m going to buy this other thing. And I always learned, I learned very early on that people really vote with their dollars. Sure. So people will tell you one thing. Oh, it’s great. Of course. And they don’t actually buy anything. Well, getting back to the mom test, those are the people who are just kind of telling you what you want to hear, not necessarily helping you and your business. 

Josh: Yeah. No, that’s really great. So, um, you know, we’re about marketing. So I’m going to ask you about SEO. You have done a lot of work in SEO. I know that you’re starting to rank for quite a few keywords page one, baby. It’s important. It’s just important stuff. So you mentioned that you use this ratio to try to figure out what to chase after and what not to. So tell me about your SEO process and this ratio.

Sean: So we’re really big on KGR at BetterYou. KGR is the keyword golden ratio. So what you’re doing, if you think about your SEO, you’ve got a couple keywords that everybody is piled onto at this point. And almost every industry it’s, maybe in 2012, you could have an advantage by just blogging about this. But now it’s like most keywords are taken. So what we do is we look at long tails because the long tail actually accounts for a lot, especially when you aggregate that long tail, it’s bigger than some of, even the most highly searched terms on the web today. For sure. And so what we do is we look at this thing called the keyword golden ratio. It measures the amount of people trying to rank for a term. 

So we get a key phrase, let’s just pick top 10 wellness strategies for Fortune 500 companies or like wellness, wellness strategies, fortune 500  firms. Let’s try something like that. Like that might be our string boom, and we’d search Google for all entitled. And we put that in quotes, that string, and what comes up is all the websites that have that phrase in their title tag. And so we can see these are all the websites that have this. If you’re trying to rank for something, you put it in your title, like it’s like one of the things you’re supposed to do for. 

And so that gives us at a glance, the number of people that are ranking for this thing, then we go to the monthly search volume and we say, okay, say we’ve got 500 people or 5,000 people ranked for this. Well, if the monthly search volume is higher than the number of people ranking for this, that’s an indicator to us. Okay. We could probably rank pretty highly for this. If we create a good post, hit that post with traffic. And so that’s what we do with KGR. It gives us an idea of which topics should actually be writing about creating white papers about et cetera. And it’s helped us rank. We have over a thousand pages on keywords today, and that’s a big, a big, big part we had, I don’t know, fewer than 50 a year and a half ago. Yeah. So it’s like we’ve had pretty great growth in that area. 

Josh: No, I think it’s awesome. I mean, it’s definitely, correlations between what you’re talking about and like our content customer journey process, where yeah, really, what we’re trying to do is understand that customer journey, what are the topics and questions that they have as people move through that? Right. Well,what are the volumes of searches, who’s winning on that. What does their content actually look like? What is Google rewarding? And then how can we actually be a better answer for them? Totally. As long as you’re the best answer Google’s going to reward you. 

Sean: So it’s funny, you know, we have some, you know, cause we have two parts of our marketing. One part is very much at the business, you know, the enterprise, the person buying our product. The other part though, is that the person who uses the product, the members, you know, Sean, or, you know, Stacy at H and R block or an employee somewhere. Right. And with that group, we’ll have some different tips and tricks and things. And so you mentioned the kind of Google rewards, the best answer. I was actually surprised at how true that is. We have an article, you know, it’s, uh, where we ranked some of the different new wearables and we recommend Fitbit. A Fitbit is like one of the best ones and it’s this new Fitbit version. And that post outranks Fitbit, if you Google top like top wearable apps or like an affiliate, I said, man, well, we don’t do that. Then the next step, right. But, uh, but I said, wow, even though we’re recommending Fitbit and the apple watch, or some of these others, you know, it’s like we are providing quality value and we’re outranking him for this pose. That’s amazing though. That’s not our business. We’re not in the wearables business.

Josh: Yeah. Yeah. Pretty cool. So, you’re not in the wearables, but you are in the behavior change business.. And so I think, uh, you know, one of the things that Augurian, that we do a lot of thinking and talking about is like this idea of, uh, digital marketers, like having confidence in their work. Sure, sure. And I think that there are behaviors that people need to have in order to have confidence. Yep. So just talk generally, maybe about like, as business professionals, Um, who are looking to have some level of behavior change? Like what are some of the tips or some of the things that you think are important for individuals when it comes to behaving? Like what does, what is behavior change? How does it happen? 

Sean: Yeah. So I think when you talk about behavior change, I might even break it down a little bit and just talk about behavior. Behavior happens when you’ve got motivation, ability, and a prompt, all coming together at the same time. Yeah. And so. So pretend I want to, you know, go for a walk this morning. Right. And maybe I’m motivated by it. Maybe it’s something that I intrinsically, maybe it’s something I intrinsically want to do. I don’t know. Maybe I like walks or whatever exercise. I’ve got a goal that I’ve set for myself around steps. Like there’s some base level of motivation, but you hit an interesting point.

Motivation fluctuates. It fluctuates based on the weather based on the time of day based on what my wife wants me to do in the morning. Right. I can go up and down, up and down. All right then ability. The thing I’m being asked to do, how, how easy is it for me to do that? So one tip just right out of the box, there is, it’s easier to start small.

If my goal is just to put on my running shoes and my walking shoes, that’s a lot easier than to walk three miles, right. Because I’ll tell you, even on a cold day, I could put on my walking shoes and maybe walk inside. Right. And then I can achieve my goal without going outside. Right. And then the last piece is the prompt.

The prompt is most often overlooked.. And a prompt can be a post-it note that you leave on your computer, it could be somebody physically reminding you of something. It can be the context, it could be an AI app like us, or it could be the context you’re in like the room, if you’ve ever had the experience where you’re walking around the house and you have this flash of inspiration where like, oh, I got to do this thing.

Usually it’s actually something in your context, that’s triggered a prompt where you said, oh, I have to remember this. And we can’t even, you know, consciously process where, what specifically it was, but we get prompted so often in our day. And so you need those three ingredients. So those three ingredients make behavior, but behavior change.

If you’ve got a behavior that’s aspirational, I want to get better sleep or maybe it’s outcome specific. I want to run the twin cities marathon next year, whatever it is, I’m using health examples, because that’s like, I see those all the time. Yep. You usually work backwards. Right? 

So instead of starting with motivation, Sean, why don’t you run in the cold weather today?

Beause it’s like, that’s a hard one to move. Yeah. You start with a prompt. Oh, maybe I just need to have a better reminder system. Maybe I need an accountability partner. Like my wife will go for walks with me. Maybe we, if we do that and then she can be like, Hey Sean, we should go for a walk. Oh, she’s prompting me. 

Josh: Amazing. Yeah. 

Sean: Then you go to ability. If you’re not able to do the thing you set out to do try an easier version. Right? I think even, almost like a little kid, you know, like if, if a little kid takes a tumble, they’re back up, they’re back up, cause they didn’t fall a very long distance, like they’re short, right? Yeah. But if we take a tumble, right? It’s like, oh, it’s five and six feet of us, like hitting the ground. That’s painful and it takes a minute. It can be your worst pain. Right. It’s like, oh man. And so. I think about starting with the smallest possible version of something like being that little kid taking the fall. Cause even if you miss right, it’s pretty easy to get back on the wagon the next day, for sure. 

And so then only after you’ve touched those two pillars, do you go into motivation and think about, okay, should I give myself a reward or, you know, maybe I donate to a cause I don’t like if I miss my goal.. Loss aversion is always popular. Yeah. You donate to like, I don’t know, whatever political candidate you don’t support. You’re like I’m going to donate a hundred dollars to them or $500 to them. If I missed this goal, that can be powerful, motivating. Okay. 

Josh: That’s interesting. I haven’t heard that one before. Uh, I might have to use it. Cool. So the last question I have, and this is a question I ask everybody that I interview is. Who are you listening to? What you’re reading. What’s interesting out there in the world. That’s kind of sparking your imagination right now. 

Sean: Sure. I’m currently listening on audible to a book called “Noise” by Daniel Kahneman. So Daniel won the Nobel peace prize in the year 2000 for thinking fast and thinking slow.

So he’s very much in the behavior and the behavior change world. I tend to read more biz –  I don’t do any fiction. I do. It’s mainly non-fiction stuff. Right? So Daniel is a good one. I like “Algorithms to Live By”, which is about how there’s a lot of math out there in our world and how you can use some really simple hacks to figure out where you should park, for example, right. Figure out when to buy your house or to this market. If you find a house you like, you should buy the house immediately, but in normal times when you should buy your house or like maybe the next house you visit, you would have liked it better. You know, how do you solve some of those types of problems? The one takeaway, I guess I’d have for me, if I go back to the one I’m currently listening to Noise, they talked about this idea of information cascade.

The power of the audience. If you ever watch, I remember watching this, like, I don’t know with my parents Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, Regis philbin right. Ask the audience. Right. Great. One of the great lifelines the audience would vote for. Right. And when you have the audience or a large group acting independently of each other, they’re pretty smart. They’re pretty good. And like you, that show kind of proved it out a little bit, right? Yeah. And normally that’s great, but you run into big issues where the crowd isn’t actually independent where like I’m looking at what Bobby’s pushing and Bobby’s, and Jill’s looking at what I’m pushing. Exactly. And so this idea is called an information cascade and it happens in hiring. So if you have a hiring decision, there’s been four people involved in the process and somebody goes first. Oh, I really liked Jill. She did X, Y. 

Josh: Okay, well then I kind of liked Jill too. 

Sean: Exactly. It becomes instantly harder for you to have the opposite opinion because you’re going to contradict this, this other person that you trust and respect and they’ve got good decisions, and good decision making abilities. So especially in a group format, having two people support a position is the kiss of death for any actual conflict or discussion. Right. And so what I learned from that is to say, I said, wow, I have to change how I’m doing this. So we’re in a hybrid environment. So what I do with this, instead of saying, who’s got thoughts on the candidate, I say, post in your let’s post in zoom, chat on the count of 10 who your top three are.

Right. And nobody knows what anybody else is pushing. And we really do one to one boop, and then it gets, and then, and then we go through the results and then there’s naturally going to be tension and conflict, which is healthy and good. And it’s leveraging that power of the crowd versus leveraging. Bob made a good decision. And Bob liked her. So it must be good. That’s where you get in trouble. 

Josh: That’s cool. Yeah. Well, I really liked that. I appreciate you taking the time to do this. This was a lot of fun dropping some good knowledge bombs here and uh, that’s going to be it for today, so fantastic, Sean. Thanks everybody. See you next time

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