The whole idea behind the MVP (Minimum Valuable Product) vs Prototype comparison, goes down to one question:
“How to make sure my idea is good?”
In other words, product development means meeting a bunch of requirements, with satisfying end-users on top of them.
If you think about it, most of startups fail because of lack of product – market fit.
There’s no other way to succeed than preparing mockups to verify assumptions and ideas and to achieve the right market fit and great revenue.
So, should you go for an MVP or a prototype to validate your idea?
Well, although they seem to be synonyms, in fact they differ a lot. We’re here to explain why, and which one you should choose for your project.
MVP vs Prototype – the main differences
According to Failory.com, it usually takes 2-3 times longer for startup founders to validate the market than they suppose. This is why it’s a must to verify assumptions as soon as possible, and the proper prototype or MVP can be a great support.
Although we use terms “MVP” and “prototype” interchangeably often, in fact they differ a lot, and are developed for different purposes.
Prototypes are usually:
- prepared in the initial stage of product development
- created to verify ideas before boosting them with effort and investment
- more like drafts than functional products
- built with minimal effort and minimal complexity
- used mostly internally, sometimes presented to potential investors, stakeholders or in crowdfunding campaigns.
At this stage, we can easily adapt and transform the product according to the new streams of ideation, so introducing changes doesn’t generate noticeable costs.
MVP stands for Minimum Viable Product, and it’s a great way to build not only web and mobile apps but the entire digital business around them.
Building an MVP is also close to the iteration cycle, which means that you take the core functionality of your app (the essential one), and you arrive at the market without any additional functionalities to get as much feedback from users as possible and adapt to it.
This way, you don’t have to spend too much investment on things that nobody is going to use at all.
So the MVP:
- is a primary version of the product for limited usage only
- requires much more effort and investment
- first, we decide on the idea, and then we figure out the direction of further product development
- is already equipped with core functionalities and features
- not only for internal presentation, but also to gather feedback from early users
- should be bug-free, as it’s the chance to test the product in reality and to convince early adopters.
In other words, we create the MVP after we approve the idea, as introducing major changes at this stage may be costly and problematic.
MVP vs Prototype key takeaways
To sum up, we design a prototype for testing ideas, while we build the MVPs for testing the product and its functionalities.
As the prototype is just a draft and can stay far from perfection, MVP, as a customer-facing version of an app, needs to be more accurate.
However, we build both mockups to accelerate the learning process, shorten time-to-market and ensure more accurate market fit. This protects startups from failure from creating a product that no one needs and appreciates.
What would you prefer to use to validate your idea?
MVP vs Prototype – which one to choose?
Making the right choice between MVP vs prototype helps to achieve not only the right market fit but also great cost-efficiency. Preparing a mockup is always cheaper than transforming the already developed product to a further stage. The right prototype or MVP will help to:
- prevent investing in ideas without potential
- understand market needs
- test the audience
- deliver the real market value
- reduce costs and risks
- reduce further technical debt.
Are you wondering whether you should go for a prototype or MVP? Well, it all depends on the development stage in which you’re in, and the challenges that you’re currently facing.
When to use Prototype?
- when you’re at the stage of testing ideas
- your budget is limited
- you have no development resources
- you don’t want to invest in the concept you’re still unsure about
- when you don’t want to go to market yet, but to present the idea internally or to potential investors
In these cases building the prototype will make your product development more cost-effective.
Once you invest a lot of time and resources in the MVP, it might be extremely difficult to step back in case your idea will need transformation or improvements.
With a prototype, you’re not tied to the initial concept, and even a more complex prototype will be still cheaper than MVP development.
When to use MVP?
You should build an MVP when you:
- have already tested your idea internally
- want to get to market fast
- prefer to get feedback from real users
- want to test ideas in the “real-life” mode
- want to prove to investors that your idea is serious and on an advanced stage.
MVP should be then developed after approving the idea and at the stage of searching for ways for its further product development.
MVP is dedicated to testing performance, features, audiences and observing market reactions. Planning and implementing such actions usually require an already defined budget, so MVP is recommended for more mature ideas.
How to build a prototype or MVP?
In order to support you in making the right decision, let’s take a look at general tips on building prototypes and MVPs.
- Focus on your customers. No matter if you’re preparing an MVP or a prototype, your customers and their needs must always be at the center of your attention. This is the only way to ensure the satisfaction of end-users and to actually generate profit.
- Analyze data. There’s no other way to be close to the market than analyzing data. Thanks to this, you will be able to make predictions and calculate profits. It’s crucial especially for MVP, as marketing and sales data collected from early users will help you evaluate performance and market fit.
- Don’t stick to your ideas. It may happen that you will be obsessed with your prototype or MVP – but no one else will share your enthusiasm. According to the CB Insights report, 35% of startups fail due to misreading market demand (34% according to Failory.com). Don’t repeat their mistakes and don’t invest in products not verified by the initial audience.
- Start ASAP. There’s no point in spending months on creating a perfect prototype – it will not get you anywhere closer. Verify your ideas on a minimal budget, and proceed to the development stage as soon as you have your final decision. This will help you to gather first feedback much faster, to shorten time-to-market, and to get an early return on investment.
How to build the MVP
If you want to learn more about building the MVP, I’ve made a short guide on How To Build The MVP.
And, if you are not in the mood for reading, you can also watch my explainer video: