Prototype Vs MVP: Understanding the Difference Veroke January 12, 2024

Prototype Vs MVP: Understanding the Difference

If you are into software creation, you’ll go through several steps before releasing the final version. The first important step is having the right development method and the second is how you confirm your business or product idea’s viability.

According to CB Insights, every one in three startups (specifically 35%) fail due to their inability to meet a market need. Well, developing new products always carries risks. Taking a moment to validate the idea can save you a heap of trouble later on.

There are two main ways to test your idea: building a prototype and creating a minimum viable product. Many IT companies use prototypes and minimum viable products (MVPs) to discover whether their ideas will resonate with their intended audience. Each has its perks and works best in specific situations. If you want to know how they work and what sets them apart? Here’s a breakdown to help you find the perfect fit.

What’s a Minimum Viable Product (MVP)?

What defines a Minimum Viable Product (MVP)? It’s a functional version of your product that incorporates essential features to captivate early adopters. You can learn about your target audience better by observing early adopters’ interactions with your MVP. You can gauge their acceptance, expectations, and what they like and dislike. Employing this method involves gradual product development, feedback collection, and the validation or rejection of initial assumptions.

Each subsequent release acts as a learning opportunity, offering deeper insights into user behavior. Allowing you to adapt and enhance your solution according to their evolving needs and challenges. Based on their feedback, progress could entail reinforcing core features, making a strategic shift, or even reinitiating a fresh product concept. This iterative process continues until the MVP evolves into a comprehensive, fully developed product.

Key characteristics of an MVP

An MVP is often simplified as small-scale, speedy, and cost-effective, yet its significance goes beyond these aspects. It serves as a vital tool for validating market needs without investing in a full-fledged product.

Let’s delve into the defining features of MVP development:

  • Narrow target audience: You may not meet the requirements of everyone if you try to reach a broad audience too early. Focusing on a specific niche and gradually refining your target user persona allows for a more effective solution to a particular problem, potentially outpacing competitors.
  • Value: A successful MVP should directly address the pain points of early adopters, providing them with value and insights that hint at the final product’s potential.
  • Core feature set: The essence of an MVP lies in showcasing your product’s core functionality. While a single core feature might not comprehensively convey the product’s idea in some cases, an excess of features too early can detract from the main concept, hindering genuine customer feedback.
  • Thrifty production: An MVP serves as a cost-efficient version of the eventual product. Its purpose is to enable a swift product launch and initiate the learning process without exhausting resources. This is a great option for startups that do not have a lot of working capital but want to secure investment.

By developing an MVP, you avoid wasting time on anything other than the core of your concept. In addition, you build all other features by analyzing early feedback about users’ needs.

Reasons to use an MVP

Initiating with an MVP allows you to dip your toes in the water, mitigating the risk of failure. This approach not only saves time and money but also serves as a litmus test to determine whether to proceed, adapt, or rework the concept entirely.

Other reasons to go for an MVP approach include:

  • Creating better final products
  • Building customer relationships
  • Avoiding major product rejections
  • Securing venture capital or crowdsourced funds
  • Starting your business with minimal resources

Choosing an MVP route ensures that a product idea is thoroughly vetted for further development while identifying potential hurdles that could impede its profitability.

What’s a Prototype?

A prototype serves as an initial representation of your business concept before its execution. It condenses your product idea into a comprehensible format, showcasing its inherent value.

How Does It Work?

Prototyping streamlines the identification of gaps in your concept, enhancing comprehension while uncovering specific needs and requirements. This method saves both time and costs, facilitating adaptations and enhancements to your product concept through user testing and feedback.

Utilizing prototypes proves advantageous in highlighting your product’s design intricacies and understanding the intricate algorithms and processes integral to the system. Depending on your objectives, a prototype can function as:

  • Display. It focuses on the look and feel of the product
  • Functional. It imitates one or a couple of product functions

Prototypes can come in the following forms:

  • Miniature (e.g., IoT product sample)
  • Digital (e.g., UI mockups, interactive “clickable” versions)
  • Paper-based (e.g., hand-drawn wireframes)

The choice of form depends on your product and the features you want to test and demonstrate.

Types of prototype models

The prototyping approach comprises four major models:

  • Extreme prototyping: It is used in web development as it focuses on product deliveries rather than discovering all possible needs and specifications, thereby maximizing productivity.
  • Incremental prototyping: This involves splitting the final product into stages with small, individually developed prototypes. Eventually, you can merge them into a single product.
  • Evolutionary prototypes: These prototypes can be developed further until they form an actual scalable product. Thus, in this model, every prototype becomes a foundation for the next one until you complete the development of your product.
  • Rapid (close-ended) prototypes: These are built to test specific functions quickly, explore ideas, and get instant feedback. They’re sometimes called thrown-away prototypes because you don’t reuse them down the line.

Now that you know how prototyping works and its major forms and models, let’s see where you can best apply it.

Reasons to use prototypes

Companies often leverage prototypes to gather initial feedback from genuine users and stakeholders before delving into extensive development. Moreover, prototyping serves multiple purposes, including:

  • Getting customer feedback without actual development
  • Securing funding by showing how your product will look or work
  • Identifying customer requirements
  • Finding and fixing gaps in the product flow

A user-tested and polished prototype lays a robust foundation for subsequent product development.

Now that you’re familiar with both approaches to idea verification, we’ll try to focus solely on what differentiates them. It’s actually pretty simple.

Prototype vs. MVP: What’s the difference?

A prototype and an MVP are primarily different phases within product development. The prototype emerges in the pre-product phase and demands minimal-to-medium investment.

On the other hand, MVP development marks an entry into the product phase, incorporating core functionalities and features to gauge the market’s reception of your idea. Constructing an MVP entails a greater investment of both time and finances compared to creating a prototype.

To demonstrate the difference between these approaches, we’ve prepared a table that compares prototype vs. MVP:

Prototype MVP
Demonstrate the concept of business
Validate an idea and find a product fit for marked with real end-user feedback
Development Time
Require weeks
Require months
Investors, Stakeholders, and the focus groups
Investors and the early adopters
Use case
Fill gaps in a manner, pitch the product idea
Look for a market fit by assessing user feedback
Can be done on a medium-budget
Require a good budget
It generates more investments, cannot be sold
Sells only to early adopters and generates investment
Further use
MVP development
Complete product development

A prototype showcases your product’s UI/UX or specific functionality without incorporating the full business logic. It can be sent to a focus group for initial feedback, revealing perceptions of the overall concept and identifying gaps in the process flow. Moreover, it serves as an ideal tool for attracting investor interest and securing funding to advance product development.

However, a minimum viable product (MVP) constitutes a functional product with essential features that effectively illustrate your business concept. Although not a complete product, an MVP facilitates the collection of user analytics and allows for the addition or refinement of features in subsequent iterations.

How to pick the right one for you?

Prototyping and MVP development are not interchangeable strategies. As mentioned earlier, both of them can be applied at a different stage of the product development lifecycle and are appropriate under certain conditions.

But which approach should you start with? Here are quick tips to help you choose the right one.

Start with an MVP when:

  • You want to mitigate the risk of failure
  • You want to monetize your idea rapidly
  • You need to start quickly at a reasonable development cost
  • You want early users to help you assess market reception

Start with a prototype when:

  • You have a tight deadline to showcase your idea
  • You want to get preliminary feedback from focus groups
  • You need to secure seed-stage funding
  • You want to visualize the flow

Proceeding gradually through both of these concepts isn’t a must, but it can help reduce risk and polish your product before it enters the market.

Summing up:

MVP and prototype serve the same overall objective — to validate your idea. But each does it from a different angle. Choosing the right approach at the outset can help you increase the likelihood that your business will succeed and that you’ll use your resources wisely. To make it short and easy:

  • You need an MVP to check your product’s market reception.
  • You need a prototype to showcase your concept with minimum cost and time.

Choosing the right approach may be challenging if you want to pursue several goals and have a limited time or budget. But there is no need to worry about it. As an experienced partner, Veroke has your back and will help you choose the best fit for your project.

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