PoC vs MVP vs Prototype: When to Use Each
A good beginning is half the task, they say. And all the concepts we’re going to discuss today - PoC vs Prototype vs MVP - are about preparing and giving a good kickoff to your Startup.
These terms are relevant for companies that are at the Concept, Pre-Seed and Seed stages so if you can find yourself on that list - welcome aboard!
Despite these concepts aren’t new to the Startup community, they’re still often misunderstood and misused. That’s why in this article we will:
- outline the difference between PoC, MVP and Prototype;
- explain when and why you should use each of these concepts;
- tell you how to get the most out of them for the benefit of your Product.
Let’s begin with taking a look at tie-ins between these concepts.
🔗 Understanding a PoC vs Prototype vs MVP Linkage
Before we review the details of each concept, let’s make an important stop and outline a few substantial ideas. Despite some of them may seem familiar, it’s important to lay out the whole picture so we don’t get confused later:
- A PoC, a Prototype or an MVP aren’t different forms of your Product. Actually, only the MVP refers directly to your end-Product.
- However, they refer to different stages in Product development. That’s why the most reasonable sequence to follow is a PoC ➡️ a Prototype ➡️ an MVP.
- What is another noticeable difference between a Prototype and a Proof of Concept vs an MVP? While MVP development is a general recommendation for all Startups, your Project may not need a PoC at all. Functional prototypes are a good idea almost always but it’s also something that may seem excessive in some situations.
- Both a Prototype and a PoC are used at the pre-Product Stage. They are needed to validate ideas and assumptions that refer to tech feasibility (it’ll be a PoC) or a UI/UX sphere (for Prototypes).
- An MVP is built at the Product Stage and released for early adopters.
A PoC vs a Prototype vs an MVP visualisation
If we try to visualise these concepts on a single timeline, it will look like this:
Now as you have a general idea of how they all correspond with each other, let's get into details!
⚙️ Proof of Concept: Validate Your Tech Idea
If you’ve read our article about Startup Idea Evaluation, you likely remember what we’ve said about putting a specific technology at the heart of your Project.
To put it short, your Product should be built around a Problem and rely on technology as a tool to solve it, not vice versa. That’s the moment when you may need a PoC.
A Proof of Concept (PoC or POC) is a small project used to verify that some tech concept (method, technology, integration, etc.) is implementable.
How is it different from an MVP or a Prototype? A few important ideas to mention:
- A PoC isn’t for customers. It shouldn’t provide a complex solution to the chosen problem, it just validates some tricky tech assumption. Usually, you don’t even show it to end-users. In fact, it will be probably reviewed only by your domain experts.
- A PoC isn’t for investors (but sometimes you may use it to your advantage). This is true if you’re seeking funding at the early stage. Then you may show your Proof of Concept to investors to demonstrate that you’re serious in your intentions and have something more than just an idea as well as that your idea won’t fail due to technical reasons.
- A PoC isn’t a “simple version” of your Product. It has a short lifecycle, likely won’t be reusable, have a simplified UI, may neglect security, etc. When creating a PoC, developers also sacrifice the code quality to speed since they mainly rely on hard-coded elements, static data, mocked APIs and so on. So don’t think of it as an early version of your Product.
The important thing here is that we’re talking about the technical side of your project. A PoC is just and only about that!
Sometimes people forget about such an emphasis and think that “concept” here refers to their idea in general. Let’s imagine you want to build an accommodation booking app:
|❌ Not a PoC||✅ PoC|
|“I’ve made a market analysis and conducted a survey among local flat owners who said that they will definitely put their property on the app. So now I have the Proof of Concept!”.||You’re developing an app that will work with keyless entry locks so users can move in the apartment just using the app, at any time and without disturbing the owner. However, you aren’t sure how you can implement keyless door access into your app. That’s a good case for using the PoC method.|
So if you compare a Proof of Concept vs a Prototype, the main aim of any PoC is to prove whether some technical aspect of your Product can be implemented. This is a “yes/no” question that provides you with an answer whether it’s possible to build your Product at all.
Why does Your Product Need a PoC?
What are the other benefits of creating a PoC for your Startup Product? Here they are:
- Proves that a specific feature or a technology is feasible and implementable within your Project.
- Helps to identify risks and potential pitfalls beforehand.
- Discloses possible bugs and errors related to the trickiest part of your tech stack.
- Provides you with some visuals that can be presented during pitches.
Working with Startups for over 3 years now, we regularly receive many questions regarding the Proof of Concept. Here are some of the most popular ones and our answers to them:
- I know that my competitors have implemented similar technology. It means that my idea is feasible, so I don’t need the Proof of Concept and can skip this stage to save money, right?
Nope, that’s not actually right. The goal is to find out whether the technology or feature can be implemented particularly within your Project.
If you just know that your competitors are already using the technology you’re interested in, that won’t be enough. However, if you know how they’ve implemented it (for example, you asked and they shared or they have a “how we used X in our app” article in their blog), it’s possible to skip the PoC step.
- Is it a must-do stage in Startup Development?
No, you don’t need it if your Project doesn’t have any tech challenges that you aren’t sure how to deal with.
- I have a few doubtful tech points in my Startup Project. Should I create several PoCs for them?
Yes. Another difference between a PoC and a Prototype or an MVP is that you may need to create multiple Proofs of Concept to validate tech assumptions for different parts of your Product.
- When should I build the Proof of Concept?
As early as possible. It’s better to create a PoC before a Prototype and an MVP since it proves whether your idea feasible at all. If it’s not, building a Minimum Viable Product or a Prototype will be a waste of time and resources.
Let’s say you’ve created a PoC and it proved the tech viability of your idea. What may be the next step? A Prototype!
🎨 Prototype: Visualise Your Idea
As we keep to outline the key difference between a Prototype vs a Proof of Concept vs an MVP, let’s get a closer look at the first concept in this line.
A Prototype is an interactive visualisation of your Product that demonstrates user flows and main design elements.
If you’re already familiar with our article about wireframing, you may remember that we described prototypes as the most advanced stage of mobile/web blueprinting.
However, unlike any other blueprinting method or form of project visualization, a Prototype provides you not only with a look but a feel of your application or website.
You may think of a Prototype as a set of designed app/web screens that make up an interactive and clickable model of your Web or Mobile App. Interactivity plays really great role here.
The Prototype is usually created after or at the very end of the Product definition stage right before the Product development itself starts.
Why to create a Prototype for your Startups?
Prototype development may be helpful in many ways. Let's take a look at them:
- Collect early Feedback from users and stakeholders. The main aim here is to check whether the user flows you came up with really match the behavioural patterns of the target audience. Is it simple to use your app or website? What troubles can they face? Is it possible to make the flow even more convenient for them? A good Prototype will provide answers to these and other questions.
- Spot and fix design mistakes beforehand. It’s always cheaper, faster and easier to fix mistakes in your UI or UX when it doesn’t involve making changes to the code itself.
- Show it to stakeholders. A good Prototype is something you can demonstrate to investors during pitching. It will show that you’re serious about your Product and have something more than just a bare idea.
In some way, a PoC vs a Prototype solve the same problem but from different perspectives. While a Proof of Concept confirms that your Product is feasible from the technical point of view, a Prototype ensures that users won’t have UX troubles while using it.
Another similarity between a Proof of Concept vs a Prototype in product development is that they both have a short lifecycle. It’s used for user testing, demonstrations, discussions, etc. When you polish your concept and move to product development, the Prototype becomes obsolete. That’s why it also shouldn’t be expensive to build.
To create a clickable, functional Prototype you’ll need to use specific tools. For example:
How does a functional Prototype look like? Here’s the one we’ve developed for our client:
Ok, now you’ve proven that your idea is feasible from the tech perspective and you know how to implement it from the UI/UX perspective. What’s next? Build an MVP!
📱 Minimum Viable Product: Solve the Problem
Despite the MVP concept was introduced in the far 2001 (when only 8.6% of the world’s population could go online and the Internet used to look like this 🙂), sometimes it’s misunderstood even nowadays. So what is it?
A Minimum Viable Product is a Product that has a minimum needed set of features to satisfy early customers and collect feedback for further development.
So the key Prototype, PoC and MVP difference is that only the MVP in this line is actually a Product. It’s not something you do for your domain expertise and show only to the limited number of stakeholders but publicly release for everyone.
According to Eric Ries, the author of The Lean Startup, the concept is a kind of compromise between 2 extremes:
- On the one hand, Startup Teams usually think that they have only one shot so it’s quite natural they want to make it perfect. Therefore, they’re spending months or even years in the stealth R&D adding many cool features, creating an awesome UI, making everything pixel-perfect and polished - all to satisfy the users.
- On the other hand, some Startups implicitly follow the rule “release early, release often”. However, many took this advice wrong and pull out crappy Products in order to get early feedback but don’t know what to do next.
Eventually, both approaches usually fail.
In the first case, Startups waste too much time and money on a Product that no one may ever need. Even if the Product passes the “toothbrush test”, any pivots or even the smallest changes may be expensive and difficult due to the product’s complexity.
In the second case, there’s a risk of falling into a circle when instead of improving a Product the Team will try to chase what customers think they want.
An MVP tries to deal with both of the problems and says: “Release a good enough Product fast”.
Another misconception regarding the Minimum Viable Product is that it’s something not very useful, having poor performance or design. It’s more like this:
To put it shortly, the key idea here is to create a Product with a minimum set of features to satisfy early adopters - people who have the most intense and frequent need to solve the problem. By giving your solution to them you can check whether the core idea behind it is viable at all.
Such a direct interaction with your end-users is another major PoC, MVP and
Why starting with an MVP is a Good Idea?
According to the Lean Startup Methodology, it's better to start with an MVP instead of a full-scale product. Why?
- Validate Your Idea. The MVP is the fastest, cheapest and most reliable way to check whether your Product is a Hero or a Zero. You may conduct an endless number of surveys, make Prototypes and focus group researches but the only indicator that you should continue developing your Startup is that people actually use your Product (that’s great) or even buy it (that’s x10 great!).
- Fail ASAP. It may not sound motivating but if your Startup is supposed to fail, you’d better fail asap. That’s a rare case when the Product is perfect as it is from the very beginning. Since the MVP isn’t a complicated Product, it will be easier to pivot and change to the right track before losing too much money and time.
- Get Money. Unlike a Proof of Concept or a Prototype, an MVP is a ready-to-use Product. It means that you can sell it to your target audience and show during pitches as you raise your Seed or Series A funding.
- Faster TTM. Since MVP development requires less time and resources than building a full-featured application or website, it opens a shorter path to the market. This encourages Startups to release and start collecting feedback instead of getting trapped in a vicious circle of endless pre-release improvements.
The trickiest part here is to correctly define what is the minimum viable part of your Product. We’ll focus on how (not) to build your MVP in one of our future articles. However, no matter whether you’re creating a Prototype, an MVP or a PoC it all goes down to a Problem.
Think of the Problem you’re going to solve with your Product and estimate features from the perspective of how they contribute to this goal.
For example, in Airbnb’s MVP you couldn’t even choose between different locations or properties; they were targeting exactly at tech conference attendees in San Francisco. Even when they’ve scaled and added new properties, users still couldn’t pay online - that’s how simple their Product was.
If you want to dive even deeper into the topic, we recommend watching this video with Eric Ries. Despite it was posted quite a long time ago, it’s still highly relevant:
Let’s take a final look at how different a Proof of Concept versus a Prototype versus a Minimum Viable Product are!
📊 MVP vs Prototype vs PoC: Comparison Table
To summarize the key ideas, we made up a comparison table below. Take a look:
|⚙️ PoC||🎨 Prototype||📱 MVP|
|Purpose||Prove the Tech Concept is feasible||Visualise the Product and user flows||Solve the problem for early customers, collect feedback|
|Form of implementation||Tech solution with a simplistic UI||Visual clickable mobile/web prototype that requires no coding||The first version of your Product|
|Target Audience||Internal domain experts||Stakeholders, focus groups of end-users||Early users|
|When to build||The beginning of the pre-Product stage||The very end of the Product Definition stage||The beginning of the Product stage|
|Resource Involvement||Needs some tech expertise and requires coding but the code quality isn’t the matter; minimal UI requirements||Requires almost or no coding/tech expertise and relies mainly on UX/UI patterns||Involves tech expertise, UX/UI, coding but requires fewer resources than similar full-scale Products|
|Revenue||No revenue (but you can use it during pitches)||No revenue (but you can use it during pitches)||You can sell it to early users and use during pitches as well|
Let’s recall the idea from the very first sentence of this article: a good beginning is half the task. That’s why it’s important not only to understand the purpose and use cases for each separate concept but to see how they correspond with different stages of product development.
Now it’s clear that you shouldn’t be choosing between a Prototype vs a PoC vs an MVP since they’re not mutually exclusive. On the contrary, when gradually moving from one concept to another you’ll be able to reduce risks and polish your Product before entering the market. The most likely sequence for you is as follows:
Any questions left? Or are you looking for a reliable Tech Partner to build a PoC, a Prototype or an MVP for your Startup? Drop us a message and we’ll share our expertise to help your Idea skyrocket!