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What is the difference between a prototype and a minimum viable product (MVP)?

At first sight, the concepts of a prototype and minimum viable product seem pretty similar. You can use both of these approaches to test the feasibility of your business idea. 

 

To be more specific, you build MVP and a prototype to find your product-market fit and get valuable feedback from pioneer users and stakeholders. Sometimes, their immediate reaction will make you consider pivoting your product.

In reality, the difference between these two concepts is more than meets the eye. The thing is that a prototype and minimum viable product are used at different stages of product development. 

Below you can see a well-known picture that clearly illustrates how these concepts work:

Now let’s take a closer look at each of these terms so that you can see the principal difference between them.

What is a prototype in web product development?
According to Wikipedia, a prototype is an early sample, model, or release of a product built to test a concept or process. Also, it can act as a thing to be replicated or learned from. 

So what does this mean in layman’s terms? In a nutshell, it is halfway usage of your future product. In a manner of speaking, we can compare a prototype to a draft. It may take different forms. You can present it as a sketch on paper or you can create an interactive and functional prototype.

So why do companies need to build prototypes? Let’s find out.

  1. Idea validation

Before you proceed to build your app, even with one-two basic features, you will want to check whether your idea is worth trying. It may happen that you will have to rethink your initial hypothesis and create a new one.

That’s why you need the basic product concept at hand. A prototype is a draft that will help you understand better how your future product will work and feel.

Furthermore, a prototype is often a part of MVP development. Firstly, you form a product idea, then you validate this idea with a prototype and check its feasibility. If feedback is positive, you begin working on a minimum viable product.

  1. The first attempt to build a working model

A clear benefit of the prototyping stage lies in your ability to communicate your idea to the development and design teams. You get a chance to explain to them what they should build. 

Designers and developers, in their turn, will show you how the future solution will look and how it will function. Thus, you get a better understanding of the design, layout, and navigation of your future software product.

  1. Prototypes save development time

Building lightweight, functional, and clickable prototypes helps avoid unnecessary confusion when your development team starts building your solution. Prototyping leaves no room for ambiguity and provides the highest level of clarity and interactivity.

As a result, developers build the first draft of the future software solution in the quickest time possible.

Minimum viable product and its importance
An MVP, according to Wikipedia, is a version of your software product that comes with the most basic functions. In this regard, a minimum viable product is different from a prototype which is basically a draft. An MVP is a working solution that you can present to stakeholders, pioneer users, and investors.

By launching a minimum viable product, you stay focused on the particular pain point you are going to address. You will not get distracted by redundant functionality.

You build MVP to receive feedback from early adopters. The pioneer users will show you what functionality you should add in later releases. Also, customers will list features they can easily do without.

Let’s take a look at the key benefits of the MVP approach for businesses:

  1. Better understanding of your target audience

We cannot underestimate the importance of researching your target audience. The launch of a minimum viable product gives you better chances to learn about your perfect customers and grasp their key pain points. 

Honest feedback from pioneer users will give you more accurate data than the best assumptions of your business analytics. Your users will tell you what features they expect to see in the later releases and which functions they find unnecessary. This way, they will help you launch the 100% customer-oriented solution.

  1. Cost reduction

Another clear benefit of the minimum viable product approach is cost-effectiveness. You will not need to bother with some sophisticated (and rather expensive) functionality for your future app. Your task is to choose one-two basic features and find the software company who will build them for you.

Since your product will have limited functionality, the development team will complete the product within the short time-frames. Consequently, you will have to pay less for their services.

Besides, the fast response from early adopters will allow you to implement new features or enhance the existing ones gradually. The MVP approach lowers the costs of the product development process.

  1. Getting financial aid

As mentioned above, you can show your prototype to investors to convince them of the feasibility of your hypothesis. A minimum viable product can be used for this purpose too. Moreover, the successful MVP increases your chances to get the required funding. 

The truth is that investors need to see initial interest in your product to give you money for further product improvement. On that score, MVP is more suited for this purpose than a prototype.

The thing is that a minimum viable product is a fully-functioning solution that you can offer to your customer. They can interact with it and give their feedback. If it is favored, you can freely show it to investors.

  1. Clear focus

An MVP enables you to stay away from any pointless investing of energy and resources on unnecessary features. With this approach, you will create only those features that users actually need. As a result, the MVP It increases your chances of creating an essential product, which can additionally be improved with the help of user feedback.

As you can see, the MVP approach brings businesses multiple benefits. That is why, many famous brands such as Spotify, Facebook, Airbnb, Dropbox, and Zappo launched minimum viable products first. When they saw the initial interest in their product, brands built fully-featured solutions.

Final thoughts
To conclude, prototypes and minimum viable products seem very similar. Both of these approaches help you test your hypothesis. They will show whether your business idea is worth investing in, or it will be better to give it up.

Still, there is a great difference between these two concepts. For example, they serve different purposes.

A prototype only shows the functionality and doesn’t have to work at all. It is like a draft on the paper. At the same time, a minimum viable product is a fully functioning solution with very basic functionality that you are ready to release.

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Author : Dmitry Chekalin

CEO @ Codica. Software Entrepreneur with 15+ years of experience. Focused on the lean startup approach. I write about startups, marketplaces and SaaS products, and custom software development.

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