Minimum Viable Product vs Prototype: What’s Best to Validate Your Business Idea?

Every startup needs to pass a number of stages to launch the final product. And one of the most important stages is idea validation. Both a minimum viable product and a prototype approach can help you with it but at different stages of product development.

However, people often confuse these definitions. Comprehension and accurate usage of both methodologies will guarantee that your business concept is accepted well by stakeholders and users, and will further enhance the success of your future product launch.

In this article, we will explain the difference between MVP and prototype and discuss how both can help to validate your business idea. Also, we will show you some prototype and MVP examples.

What’s a prototype?

A prototype is an early sample, model, or release of a product built to test a concept or process or to act as a thing to be replicated or learned from – Wikipedia.

When you have a product idea, you need to check whether it will work at all. Here comes a product prototype as one of the cheapest and fastest options before moving to further startup development. This way you see how your future product will function and what it can look like.

Thus, an early stage prototype is a very basic implementation of a future project. Simply put, it is like a sketch that you introduce to investors to show your idea alive and running. Along with that, the prototype’s performance is easier to understand for investors compared to the technical documentation.

The leading goal of a prototype is testing. Your early adopters and investors are those who accomplish this task. Creating a prototype allows you to get prior acquaintance with the way potential users will interact with your future product. The development team should collect the clients’ feedback and consequently make alterations to an existing prototype or build a new one.

Frequently, before moving on to MVP development, you need to build lots of prototypes with different scopes and content. Prototyping is additionally effective in inventing fresh ideas about the startup product.

You may also like: How to Build a SaaS Startup in 10 Smart Steps

With a product prototype, you can raise funds and later create a minimum viable product based on it. And here lies the difference between MVP and prototype entities, so what to build for your early-stage project – MVP or prototype – is not in question.

The question that might trouble you is how to create an MVP that will help you verify your business idea and also save time and resources. For more information, read our article on how to build a minimum viable product.

Example of a prototype

The best way to answer the question “What is a prototype?” is to show a product prototype example.

One of our projects was an online auto marketplace for buying and selling cars in Africa that started with building a prototype and an MVP.

When we began working on this marketplace platform development, we decided to provide the customer with a UX prototype to demonstrate the user flow on accomplishing particular actions on the website.

Since the platform’s primary goal is to provide the users with functionality to sell or purchase cars, initially, the website prototype included such stages as:

  1. Registration/Sign In;
  2. Car Offer creation.

For example, the latter involved several steps: Login, Vehicle, and Contact Info.

Let’s look at the car offer creation in more detail.

1) At the login stage, you need to enter your e-mail address and password or register. Also, you have an opportunity to log in via Facebook.

Vehicle marketplace prototype. Step 1: login

2) At the next stage, you need to enter the information about your vehicle like type, condition, make, model, style, etc. You have an opportunity to upload photos of your vehicle.

Vehicle marketplace prototype. Step 2: add vehicle

3) At the last stage, you should enter personal data like First/Last name, e-mail address, phone number, and click the submit button to publish your offer.

Vehicle marketplace prototype. Step 3: add contact details

Later, we have additionally developed the mobile app prototype which was illustrating the way mobile users will engage with the websites.

Mobile app prototype for the vehicle marketplace

Finally, the next stages of prototype development helped us and the customer to find the best user flow and continue the platform development.

Now, we have determined the meaning of a prototype and how it helps in product development. The next step of our prototype vs MVP comparison will be defining the minimum viable product and showing some MVP examples.

What is an MVP?

You may wonder, what is an MVP?

A minimum viable product is a product with just enough features to satisfy early customers, and to provide feedback for future product development – Wikipedia.

If you have an idea of a product or service, or even already have built a prototype, you still need to check whether this idea is worth any outlay. Here comes an MVP which helps you evade wasting time and money. It is a quick and effective way to build a functional product that can further be scaled and amended.

You may find it interesting: 5 Reasons to Start Custom Software Development With an MVP

Here is a quick minimum viable product vs prototype comparison. A functional MVP is almost a fully-fledged product, ready to be pushed to the market. It is a shot to understand whether your product will be valuable for the customers in the market. All it needs is feedback from the target audience and further MVP validation. Unlike a prototype, a minimum viable product expects deep technical development, as the functionality can be further added, as the product scales.

Here’s a particularly famous picture explaining how the prototype vs MVP approach works:

Prototype vs MVP vs Final product

This image vividly demonstrates the essence of an MVP in the product development process. You can create a prototype, get initial feedback, test an MVP for a wider public, and roll it to the market, get another feedback, and only then build the final product.

A minimum viable product is prominent for a startup as it provides you with the users’ feedback on early stages and can become a green light to moving forward towards a full-featured product creation.

On the flip side, it can even abandon the idea, if you see that it is not going to be profitable.

See also: How to Build a Marketplace MVP and Not Fail

Example of an MVP

XPATconnect is a world-first platform for accommodation search for expats that helps to find long-term housing. Initially, the customer asked to build an MVP for the platform to gather the community feedback and improve the application in the future.

It differs from an interactive prototype due to its working capacity and core functionality existence. The main platform feature is to provide expats with the best accommodation based on the list of their needs and preferences.

MVP for the accommodation search platform: Home page

1) At the first stage, a user fills out an application form of 22 questions regarding the place, work address, house preferences, personal needs, rental budget, etc. This data is then collected and analyzed to provide them with the best choices.

MVP for the accommodation search platform: Account created

2) When the application form is filled in, XPATconnect provides a user with a map and the appropriate accommodation options within different neighbourhoods. Taking into account a user’s preferences, they can get a quick overview of each option.

There they see the details about facilities, location, size, bedrooms’ number, garages, cost, parking, images etc. Also, the map allows them to see different institutions nearby like hospital, gym, schools, nursery.

MVP for the accommodation search platform: Select options

3) Once selected a preferred option, a user can build the way from the house to your work point or other facilities across city neighborhoods. This way, users see how to get to work and how long the commute will take before they even arrive.

MVP for the accommodation search platform: Building a route

Currently, XPATconnect is at an MVP stage gathering community feedback and improving the application.

Prototype vs MVP: difference between them

It is important to understand that MVP and prototypes have different goals and they should be utilized at different product development stages. This contributes to the essential difference between these approaches.

Prototypes are utilized at the early stages of startup product development, briefly  –  for presentations and user testing. Once you have completed the prototype validation and raised some funds for the development of a minimum viable product, its lifetime terminates.

Most importantly, you get valuable feedback from early users and stakeholders. If the feedback is negative, you alter the prototype and try again.

Then, you should conclude the results obtained at the stage of prototype creation. The main goal is to generate a technical brief and discuss it with development teams in order to reach a conclusion concerning further MVP creation and app development.

After the first crucial round of validation, you need to change your development style. Now you can build and test an MVP using the knowledge obtained from the previous round. Moreover, here you turn to a different model of development: from rapid sketch coding to a product development that the first users will see.

As Steve Blank, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, creator of the customer development method, said:

You’re selling the vision and delivering the minimum feature set to visionaries not everyone.

To conclude, the prototype should be used at the very beginning to test the assumptions and show your idea alive to early investors and users. This way you persuade the investors that your idea is worth a shot and they are confident about their investment. In the minimum viable product vs prototype comparison, the second option is only a sketch, not a fully functional product. It does not even have to work.

An MVP approach should be used to test your startup idea for efficiency and to get the community feedback. Moreover, this way you can raise sufficient means and later roll the product to the market for the wider public. Even if your idea turns out to be not valuable to develop it further, you can stop any time without having spent a good deal of money and time.

So, the question of what to choose for your business idea validation – minimum viable product vs prototype – is not appropriate. Alongside this, both approaches can be easily combined.

See also: 10 Best SaaS Startups for Your Inspiration [2020-2021]

Famous MVP and prototype examples

Let’s take a look at some more prototype and MVP examples, to see the difference between these approaches.

Prototype: Apple Phone

Below is an early prototype of the Apple Phone (known now as the iPhone). It had nothing in common with the portability but proved that Apple was ready to take the initiative in the touchscreen technology.

Famous examples of prototypes: iPhone prototype

One of the reasons why Apple stands out from its competitors is the design of its products. Do you want to create a product with a design that your customers will love to use? Discover the leading UI/UX design trends to dominate in 2020-2021 in our detailed article.

Minimum viable product: Facebook

2004 noticed the beginning of what is now called Facebook, although back then it was named Thefacebook. It suffered a shortage of many services available now. To date, we all know it as one of the most successful and expensive among other social media platforms.

The initial core functionality was limited to searching for people at the school, checking who is in your classes, finding the friends’ friends, etc.

Famous examples of MVPs: Facebook MVP

According to Statista, the second quarter of 2020 brought Facebook a huge number of 2.7 billion monthly active Facebook users. Do you want to widen your audience? Read our article about market networks and why they are so popular.

Conclusion

While comparing minimum viable product vs prototype, we can outline that they are both useful approaches to validate and verify the assumptions about your startup idea. Each method plays a crucial role in the development process and defining what and how to build. However, they have distinct goals in the design flow.

A product prototype only displays the functionality and doesn’t need to operate entirely. On the flipside, an MVP is already a functional product, albeit simple, ready to go on the market. It could be further improved and scaled.

The difference between MVP and prototypes can easily be explained with examples. When you want to test the system, see it working, and surprise the investors, go with an interactive prototype. In case you need to confirm your assumptions about the product’s value and roll the functional product to the market, build a minimum viable product.

Since 2015, Codica team has been helping clients launch projects of different stages and difficulty: from product idea validation, MVP implementation to scaling, further development, and support. You can see it for yourself in our case studies we are glad to share with you.

Need help creating an MVP or a prototype? Let’s discuss how we can help!