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If you haven't been testing your ideas with a proof of concept or prototype, you could be charting your product for failure. We knew from first-hand experience that validating your ideas is the only essential way to ensure product-market fit.
Therefore, you ought to know how to leverage PoC, prototype, and even MVP during development. More importantly, you'll need to learn the differences and which should be deployed at various stages.
In general, you'll want to follow the PoC → Prototype → MVP order. In some cases, you can skip PoC if there isn't a need to run a feasibility test.
Let's dig deeper into each of the methods.
What is PoC (Proof of Concept)?
Proof of Concept or PoC is where you decide if it's feasible to pursue the development of a new product idea. It serves as a process to
- Determine if the ideas are practical.
- Provide convincing arguments to secure investments.
- Assess risks during the early stage.
You don't always need PoC when you're building a product. PoC is specifically intended for new ideas that were never tested in the market.
If you're working on a new social network or a delivery service in 2020, you do not need PoC. This is because it's historically proven that such products are possible and have already been developed by other companies. The only uncertainties are market-risks like customer-acceptance and outdoing your competitors.
However, you'll need a PoC if you're developing something unproven, such as an autonomous flying electric taxi for the mass market. You'll need to ensure that such a product is feasible in terms of technologies, regulations, and other factors.
It may take a few days to months or years to build a PoC, with the latter for extreme ideas like building an orbital rocket that's capable of landing on earth on its return.
Thankfully, not all startups are building rockets. In fact, many of them don't require PoC either as they're building on already-proven technologies.
In the event that you'll need to validate your ideas with PoC, remember only to take the main idea into account. Forget about usability or integration as they don't serve any purpose at such an early stage of validation.
All you need to do is to ensure that it's possible to implement the idea.
Examples of PoC
When the internet was first introduced in the 90s, many ideas were unexplored. Services like real-time chat need to be validated with a PoC to ensure that it's achievable with the technologies back then.
At Uptech, we have worked on our internal product – Rozmova. It’s a mental health platform that helps people find therapists that will perfectly match their requests. As we passed the full product development cycle, from idea validation to product launch, we had to build a PoC. It was a simple sketch of the screens in Figma. It looks like some kind of Frankenstein UX, when you use screenshots of different ready solutions and just build the structure with their help. But it was super time-saving and we did the most important thing – check the idea’s feasibility and need.
What is a prototype
A prototype is an early attempt to visualize a working solution. It has the basic functionalities of the product, although in much lesser refined forms. Depending on the product, a prototype can be in different forms, such as a simple sketch on paper or a basic app with limited interactions.
The prototype is helpful for:
- Putting the design and functionalities into perspective.
- Validating UI and UX.
- Gather early feedback for improvements.
- Efficient use of resources when developing the final product.
- Securing seed fundings.
You'll find that a prototype is more 'complete' than the PoC, as it's a simplified version of the final product. It's meant to validate the usability, design, and functionality of the product. However, it is still a far cry from the final product in terms of functionality, stability, and aesthetics.
Example of prototype
One of Uptech's notable prototypes is an app called Carbon Club. It was created for a client to connect charity donation with the carbon footprint of the individuals. In our Design Sprint workshop, together with the client we went through brainstorming sessions, where key challenges and goals for the app were identified.
During the early testing, we've created a prototype to gauge users' response to determining the value of donations based on their financial transactions in support of a greener earth. The idea was met with enthusiasm, but users are not keen to link an app to their bank accounts.
We discarded the idea of integrating with the user's bank account and replaced it with a quiz to determine the carbon footprint. By working on a prototype, we've helped our client to prevent a costly mistake. Furthermore, the prototype was built in a matter of days, which sped up the idea validation process.
What is MVP
MVP, which stands for Minimum Viable Product, is the bare form of the product that is capable of solving the user's problem. The idea was best described by Eric Ries in The Lean Startup. Rather than a one-off process, the MVP paves a pathway to continuous evaluation of the product features, which fueles further revisions.
You'll need an MVP for:
- Learn what the users think of the product.
- Cutting short development time.
- Reduce the risks of failure.
- A more efficient allocation of resources.
An MVP is a more refined representation of the product ideas than the PoC and prototype. While it's still limited in features, the MVP often looks better and is more stable.
Check out our Ultimate guide & Checklist on building MVP.
Examples of MVP
Our best example of an MVP is Plai. Plai is a performance management solution that's geared for small and medium companies. As performance management covers many areas, our team decides to focus solely on OKR management, as we've found to be a common need.
The MVP was released in 2 months after validating the prototypes with 500 early sign-ups. We narrowed down our focus to features that are essential to set and track OKR. We also decided to only focus on the browser-version for the MVP.
After the release, we've onboarded the same users who tested the prototype and sought their feedback from further improvement. Based on that, we've included 1:1 meetings, 360° feedback, and reviews as features to an app that's still growing.
We worked tightly with our customers throughout the MVP development. Our approach has saved us time, money, and results in an idea-to-launch timeframe of only 2 months.
MVP vs PoC vs prototype: let’s compare
It may still be hard to differentiate between MVP, POC, and prototype. The goals and approaches are different for each validation method. Here’s a summary table that helps.
What’s the right approach for you?
PoC, prototyping, and MVP are the strategies that can be applied in sequence. But, as a startup owner, you may not want or even don’t need to use them all. Usually, when the clients hesitates what strategy to choose, we ask themthese questions:
- What do you need to verify?
- What’s the size of the idea?
- Who are you targeting?
- Who do you want to impress?
Of course, the answers aren't straightforward and demand time and research. That's ok. This is where we offer Product Discovery. It's the product development stage when we, together with a client, clarify all the uncertainties and find answers to the questions above.
But now, let's make it even more clear and look at the cases when PoC, prototyping, and MVP suit best.
When to use PoC?
- You want to find out if the idea is possibly executed within technical limitations.
- You wish to reduce the risks of failure at the final hurdle.
- You need to convince investors that it’s an idea that’s worth funding.
When to use Prototyping?
Choose prototype when:
- You’re raising funding.
- You want to have a clearer picture of how the app looks, feels, and functions.
- You need to present the ideas with a limited budget.
When to use MVP?
Go for MVP when:
- You need to deliver a working app to the customers.
- You need to monetize the app.
- You’re ready to launch a bug-free app to the public.
- You need real usage feedback for further improvement.
MVP vs PoC vs Prototype: Time & Money Comparison
The POC, prototyping, and MVP strategies serve different purposes and are applied at different product development stages. Logically, they have different timeframes, and their development cost differs. Here's the table to show you the time&money difference between MVP, PoC, and prototype.
Skipping product validation is not an option. To substantially increase your chances of success, you’ll need to include the prototype and MVP into your development roadmap. And if you’re pushing for a brand new revolutionary idea, you’ll need to build the PoC too.
If you’re still confused about which works best for your product, drop me a message here.