MVP vs Prototype: All You Need To Know

Wondering the difference between MVP and prototype? Or wondering which one is more suitable for your startup? Here is an expert article to help.

Have you ever wondered the secret of great founders who seem to hit the market with a loud bang every time they launch a product? Then, read on, this article is for you. 

Before moving on to explain what an MVP and prototype both mean, supposing an entrepreneur’s got this exciting new concept or product idea they’re really sold out on. Of course, the first inclination will be to devote their entire time and resources to seeing that the product ends up being the hottest product in the market.

The strategy would be to build a great product, put it out on the market, and recruit a couple of marketing gurus to help with the sales campaign. Next thing, the product goes live on the market and is expected to go shoulder-to-shoulder with competitors’ products. 

At least that’s how the story is supposed to go, right?

Unfortunately, the market is full of surprises most of which can kill the entrepreneurial drive. When a solution doesn’t directly address a specific problem that the targeted audience wants solved, its chances of survival are very slim. In essence, no customers mean no traction. No traction means you’d have to close doors sooner than you expect.

However, this misfortune could be averted. Business experts have developed ways you could get ahead of your game through accurate market foresight that’ll save you the embarrassment of championing a failed product. 

 Let’s dive fully into these terms. 

What is an MVP?

A Minimum Viable Product, MVP, is a way of validating a business idea without the trouble of first building a full-fledged product. Consider it a cheat code that lets you in on what the market agrees with before you even take the first step. The good news is that creating an MVP doesn’t cost as much as the real product. 

Many entrepreneurs start out with so much energy and excitement only for their products to be met with a brick wall of zero traction. A minimum viable product could have told them what they needed to make their solution better.

So the idea of doing an MVP is basically to figure out if a particular product is going to be in the market for a long time or suffer a premature exit, without actually building the full product.

What is a prototype?

A prototype is the earliest version or model of a product created to model the functionality of a concept but does not necessarily possessing the actual logic behind the product. It is designed to sample what the product looks like in reality to test customer reaction and interaction with the product.

What is a POC?

Proof of concept, also called POC, is similar to a prototype but smaller in size and design. It is the smallest sample used by companies to test the feasibility of a small part of an idea or theory being developed.

POC models only a part of the entire system, perhaps to find more efficient methods or prove a particular feature of the product development process outside the whole project.

What are the differences between MVP and Prototype? 

Major differences between a minimum viable product and a prototype are Purpose and testing approach. The purpose of building a prototype is to model the look and feel of the product design but with limited functions.

This is done by testing out a variety of concepts prior to the final product launch. An MVP on the other hand has the minimal features needed for a working product which serves to test the usability, design, and functionality of the entire product concept based on user preference.

A prototype is mostly used within the company, among technical developers, or a small range of target users. While an MVP is tested on a wider market range.

Things you should know when building a prototype or MVP

  • Interact with target audience: collect feedback from initial users which would be helpful in shaping the final product. 
  • The process is iterative: You might have to keep evolving a product from the initial idea in order to get precisely what consumers want. Therefore, keep checking with consumer feedback to build a solution people actually want, at the right time.
  • Market research is key: You need intensive market research to know if the problem you’re solving is big enough to be turned into a profitable business. In addition, market research helps to confirm what alternatives are already being provided in the market by competitors and measure any gaps your product could fill.
  • Don’t be afraid to start afresh: Sometimes a minimum product might prove just how crappy an idea is. Instead of giving up, the next best option is to start building again, from scratch. A major advantage of market testing, is that you’d know what works and what doesn’t with only the minimum features present. Making mistakes are pointers to what you could do better in the real product version. 
  • Customers determine if you have a product or not: Your product will be used by real people with real problems, so keep them at the center of your work when developing your MVP or prototype. 

Why is either MVP or prototype a big deal? 

  • Product validation: Both a minimum viable product and prototype tests early assumptions against what’s feasible in reality. A project might sound great on paper but turn out to be unrealistic in implementation.
  • Available market assessment: These tools provide real insight into available market size and whether you’d have a hard time convincing people to buy your solution or not. Developing an MVP or prototype as well helps to build market hype and excitement about the product before the launch date.
  • You’d get firsthand information before investing time and money on a product.
  • In addition, a prototype can help with convincing investors to fund further development on the product.

What does your company need? MVP VS. Prototype

Startups find it difficult to decide whether to build an MVP, prototype, or even a Proof of concept. When choosing between a minimum viable product and a prototype, don’t decide yet. At least not until you consider both concepts from your product’s perspective.

This is because both an MVP and prototype relate to different stages of the product development process and sometimes, product type and size too. Hardware companies might have to build a prototype to physically model out their design. 

However, based on timing, a POC should be developed first to verify the project’s feasibility and primary features which are to be combined in creating an early version. A prototype may be built next to provide a visual sampling of the conceptualized idea. Finally, an MVP with minimum working features is created to test the user acceptability of the product.

How to develop a Minimum Viable Product

  • Find a problem worth solving: You can assess the viability of a product idea by first talking about it to people within the targeted market parameters. Allow them to express their pain points in that niche. Then, confirm their interest in paying for a solution such as the one you’re proposing. A bad signal would be getting negative reactions to your idea after interacting with about 5-30 people.
  • Tailor your solution to meet user needs: This means to test your proffered solution by offering it to a small group of people still within the target group. Get their assessment and build from there.
  • Build an initial version with only the minimal features needed to test the product: This could be a demo website, beta version of an app, or something as simple as a landing page. An MVP doesn’t have to contain the full features for functionality or be complex. Whatever you’re putting out should be easy to navigate, and capture user analytics (something like number of page shares, views, reviews and signups).
  • Keep working on your solution until there’s a product-market fit.
Joy Gabriel

Joy Gabriel

Joy is passionate about helping startups and businesses grow to their full potential through her writings. A business strategist and a Financial Expert, she understands what it means to be in the entrepreneurial space. She loves cooking and singing when she's not working.
You can connect with her via LinkedIn.

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