7 min read

Prototype vs MVP: Which one is the right choice?

Prototype Features and MVPs are valuable techniques for businesses looking to develop successful products. By testing the most important features and getting feedback from potential customers, businesses can minimize costs and risks while improving their chances of success in the market.

Tim Davidson
Author
Tim Davidson

Everyone knows the success stories of small SaaS companies that were founded in a basement and went on to become multi-billion dollar companies. For every one of these stories, there are thousands of other products that were conceptually just as good but lacked the careful planning and execution to get where they needed to be.

Knowing that there’s a high rate of failure in developing a new product shouldn’t put you off. However, you should consider it a lesson given by thousands of others to avoid rushing into the process.

There are tons of challenges you, the entrepreneur, will face in trying to get your product off the ground. Arguably the biggest is figuring out how to meet the needs and demands of your customers. The development process can be costly, time-consuming, and resource-intensive, which is why it is essential to have a solid plan in place before starting.

Two essential strategies that you can utilize to reduce risks and uncertainties during the product development process are prototyping and MVP (Minimum Viable Product).

In this article, we’ll explore the concept of prototypes and MVPs, their benefits and drawbacks, and when to use one over the other.


Why bother building a prototype or MVP?

When you boil it down, prototypes and MVPs save time and money by finding the “gotchas” while the project is still fast and fluid.

By taking this half-step towards building your product, you can validate an idea, experiment with functionality, and gather feedback from the people who will ultimately be giving you money.

Solving your customer’s problem should always be at the top of the priority list. Prototypes and MVPs are the quickest and lowest-cost methods to make this happen. Along the way, you also hopefully figure out what an optimal user experience looks like and avoid some of the costly errors that plague every software project.

If you’re thinking of pitching investors on your idea, having a lightweight prototype or simple MVP to present makes conversations a lot easier.

Finally, if you need help building your MVP or final product and want to work with an agency like Clean Commit, having a well-thought-out prototype or MVP is going to save us a ton of time and you a bunch of money. We love it when our clients spend the time figuring this out!

Figma prototype example

What does a prototype look like in 2023?

Prototyping involves creating a preliminary version of your product that can be tested and evaluated before finalizing the design. For most web agencies like us, that means building a bunch of static frames in Figma and then connecting them together. The result is a clickable model that looks like a finished desktop or mobile application and allows the user to interact with some elements like buttons, dropdowns, and fields.

The challenge to creating a good prototype is moving quickly while thoroughly capturing the product’s functionality. It can be easy to fall into the trap of spending too much time designing something beautiful that doesn’t do everything it’s supposed to.

Comparison - Prototype vs MVP vs Final Product

What does an MVP look like in 2023?

An MVP (Minimum Viable Product) involves building the most basic version of your product with the smallest number of features required to meet the customer's needs. It should focus on delivering the “unique sell proposition” or the thing that makes it different from every other product.

MVPs take considerably more effort than prototypes, and if the idea is good enough, they can start making money straight away. However, they come with significantly more challenges. Like prototyping, it can be easy to stray from the “leanest path”.

As the product’s mastermind, it can be easy to start adding more features than necessary in order to make it the “best viable product”. However, it doesn’t matter how many features you add to a product that’s going to fail.

There’s no unified answer to what an MVP looks like in 2023. The trend of no-code has taken off, and for many ideas, this is a great approach to move quickly. Other MVPs will need to be developed as small web apps. Luckily, there are plenty of great full-stack frameworks (like Next.js!) that streamline this process.

Pros and Cons of Prototyping

Prototypes and MVPs are both super useful, but there are times when one trumps the other. Here’s a quick list of the pros and cons of prototyping.

Pro:

  • Identifies design flaws and issues before the final product launch.

    Complex ideas require sophisticated designs which can hide problems. Prototyping is a good way to expose these potential show-stoppers.

  • Rapid experimentation and iteration

    Since prototyping doesn’t require any coding or even any intricate design work, it’s easy to iterate and cycle through ideas quickly.
  • Low effort and low cost

 Most decent UI/UX designers can whip up a prototype in a matter of days.

  • Easy to capture and record feedback

Using a design tool like Figma to create and display a prototype means that feedback can be made directly on the prototype. When a dozen different people are providing feedback, this helps streamline the process and points out areas where the most people thought changes were needed.

Cons of Prototyping:

  • Feedback can be influenced by the “look and feel”

Unfortunately, not everyone can look past the fact that a prototype isn’t a finished product, and that’s where they focus their feedback.

  • Anyone can make a poorly designed prototype

There’s no barrier to entry in prototyping. The disadvantage here is that a poorly thought out and designed prototype can lay unrealistic expectations. It’s hard to change a client’s mind when they decide something has to happen, even if it’s not technically feasible.

  • It’s not fully functional

Prototyping provides a focal point for conversation, but it can’t actually do anything.

Pros and Cons of MVPs

MVPs do a handful of things really well, but like everything in software development, they’re no silver bullet. Here are the pros and cons of building an MVP.

Pros of MVP:

  • Cash generation

MVPs cost money to build, unless you’re building it yourself. Once it’s built, if you’ve correctly hit on a pain point for customers, then you can start bringing in revenue to fund the rest of your product’s development.

  • Functional instead of conceptual

There’s nothing quite like showing off something that actually works to potential customers, investors, or important stakeholders. It vindicates the fact that you’re committed to the idea and have laid the foundation for something to happen.

  • Building an MVP exposes more of the “gotchas”

Prototypes can only help you think through so many of the challenges behind your idea. The rest will be hiding in the logic of your product’s interactivity. The only way to find them is to build an MVP.

Cons of MVP:

  • Exposure to fast-moving copycats

This disadvantage of MVPs sucks, but software development is a competitive landscape. If you launch an MVP that is seeing success, there’s a chance someone else will race you to build the fully-featured version.

  • It’s an expensive way to test an idea

Skipping the prototyping stage and building an MVP only to find out customers don’t want it can be expensive. Unless you built the MVP yourself with a no-code platform, you’re looking at northward of $10k.

  • It’s easy to build a “Best viable product”

Losing discipline and allowing the scope to creep on an MVP is incredibly common. It’s hard not to do when you want to see your product succeed, but it costs time and money with no promise of any greater return.

Alternatives to prototypes and MVPs

While prototypes and MVPs are the favorite tools for validating ideas, they’re not the only options available. Some other techniques and tools worth paying attention to are:

  • No-code: We’ve mentioned this approach a few times, and it’s worth considering. There are platforms like Bubble that let non-technical folk build full applications. These applications can end up turning into real products without ever seeing a line of code.
  • Full product development: Kind of goes without saying, but if you believe strongly in your product then you can skip the testing phase and go straight for the kill. This approach is more costly and time-consuming, but it allows you to create a more comprehensive product.

Prototype vs MVP: which one wins

Here’s a quick head-to-head between the two product testing methodologies:

  • Cost - winner: prototyping

Prototypes take days, and MVPs take weeks or months. There’s really no comparison here. Even using a no-code platform to build an MVP will be significantly more expensive than prototyping using a free tool like Figma.

  • Time to market - winner: MVP

Prototyping has a quicker turnaround time for gathering customer feedback, but it doesn’t get you any closer to building a product. MVPs are the foundation of a real product, and you could argue they are “on the market”.

  • Collecting feedback - winner: Tie

Both formats provide excellent vehicles for collecting feedback. MVPs are more realistic implementations of ideas, but prototypes can be built to be closer to the fully featured product.

There are too many variables to give a black-and-white answer to whether you should build a prototype or MVP. In most cases, it pays off to do both.

Prototypes can be used to collect feedback from people closer to the idea, like colleagues. Then your MVP can be sent to customers.

Conclusion

Prototype Features and MVPs are valuable techniques for businesses looking to develop successful products. By testing the most important features and getting feedback from potential customers, businesses can minimize costs and risks while improving their chances of success in the market.

However, it's important for business owners to consider the pros and cons of these approaches and to choose the best one based on their specific needs. Whether it's cost, time to market, customer feedback, or complexity, there is an approach that can work for every business.

By carefully evaluating the options and making informed decisions, businesses can create successful products that meet the needs of their customers and help them achieve their goals.

Written by
Tim Davidson

Tim Davidson

Tim is the face of the company. When you want to kick off a new project, or an update on your existing project, Tim is your man!

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