If you work in product development, chances are you use terms like Minimum Viable Product (MVP), Proof of Concept (POC), and Prototype all the time. But do you actually know the difference?

Many use these terms interchangeably, but they actually mean different things. Understanding when to use an MVP, POC, or Prototype can have a significant impact on your process. In this article, we’ll break down the key differences of POC, MVP, and Prototype so you know which term to use when.

Defining the Key Terminology

First, let’s clearly define these terms:

  • Minimum Viable Product (MVP) - An early product version with just enough features to satisfy early adopters and gather feedback. The goal is to validate the product concept and market viability.
  • Proof of Concept (POC) - A small experiment to validate a particular concept, feature, or capability.
  • Prototype - A draft representation of a product idea used to gather feedback in the early stages of design.

The similarities and overlaps of POC vs. Prototype vs. MVP

Before we talk about what sets them apart, let's first understand what makes POC, Prototype, and MVP similar:

Early-stage experiments: All three, POC, Prototype, and MVP, serve as early experiments to test out ideas without diving in too deep. You don't have to commit significant resources right away.

Gathering feedback: They all give you a way to collect feedback. Whether it's from users or about the technical aspects, these tools help you learn and make improvements.

Iterative approach: Each of them follows a step-by-step process. You try something, get feedback, and then make changes. It's like building a puzzle, picking one piece at a time.

Justifying further investment: The results from POCs, Prototypes, and MVPs help you decide if it's worth investing more. If things look promising, you can continue; otherwise, you can rethink your strategy.

Illustrating the key differences of POC, MVP, and Prototype

What is the difference between Prototype and MVP?

A prototype is like sketching a blueprint for a house to gather feedback on the design, while an MVP is like a partially built house with just the essentials to check if it's livable.

What is the difference between POC and prototype?

Imagine you’re creating an e-commerce website to sell handmade bags. You will first do some surveys or research to see if there's even a need for a product like that. That’s POC.

Then, for the prototype, you'd design the actual look and feel of the website, showing how customers will browse products and make purchases even before the website is fully developed.

What is the difference between MVP and POC?

Say you want to build a food delivery app. With POC, you can test the idea by conducting surveys to see if people are interested in the concept.

Once you have the validation, you can launch an MVP version of your app that includes a limited number of restaurants with the basic functionality of ordering food and getting it delivered.

The Purpose: Why build it?

MVPs, POCs, and Prototypes serve related but different purposes. Let’s have a look:


MVPs are all about making sure your product idea works for real customers. You do this by creating a basic but working version. This way, you can get important feedback without spending too much money upfront.

To better answer what is a Minimum Viable Product, let’s look at Dropbox. They started with a 3-minute video showing how their cloud storage idea could work. This video helped them see if people wanted it before they started coding.

Know here The Power of MVP in Building Successful Brands


What is a Prototype? Prototypes help in designing your product by answering questions like:

  • Does the way users will use my product make sense?
  • Are the ways they'll interact with it easy and smooth?
  • Does the look and feel of my product match what users want?

Since 94% of first impressions are design-related, you should always create prototypes to gather feedback on your designs. This will help you to make your design better before you go all-in with development.


POCs focus on validating the core concept of your idea by answering questions like:

  • Am I solving the correct problems?
  • What am I missing?
  • Are people interested in this?

POCs give you the facts about whether your idea can work.

When does each approach apply?

Now that we clearly understand the “why” behind MVPs, POCs, and prototypes, let’s see when each one fits best:


POCs are your go-to choice when you're still in the early stages of shaping your product concept. They help you see if your idea is worth it.

Say you want to add an AI-powered recommendation system to your app. Before going all-in, you will conduct surveys or research to validate if the users even want this feature or if your solution to the problem is sound. This is called POC.


Once you've validated the idea, it's time to focus on how your product will look and feel. This is where prototypes shine.

Use prototypes to make your user experience and design better. They help you work on user flows, interactions, and visual design. It's like a checkpoint in the middle of your project to make sure your design is heading in the right direction before you dive into full development.


MVPs come into play a little later. They're the final step before going out with development and launch plans. By this point, your concept is well-defined, and you've tackled the major technical questions.

Design an MVP to show your core features and what makes your product valuable to early users. Their feedback will tell you if you're on the right track and if there's a market for your product. MVPs are the last hurdle before you commit significant resources to the final product.

What does each deliverable look like?

Now, let's talk about how POCs, prototypes, and MVPs differ in appearance and functionality:


POCs, because they're all about verifying the core concept of your idea, might not even have a user interface.

Let’s look at Etsy. They simply observed what eBay was doing and then built a product based on that. They validated their idea by observing where eBay was doing well and the gaps in their offerings. Classic POC example.


Prototypes are more user-friendly. They let you play around and gather feedback, but they aren't fully functional products.

Common forms of prototypes include:

  • Wireframes demonstrating user flows
  • Click-through prototypes for interaction feedback
  • Mockups demonstrating visual design direction

Prototypes are like a preview that helps you make your design better.


MVPs are the closest to a real product. They look and feel like a working version, but they're limited in what they can do.

For example, Instagram’s MVP was a simple app where users could check in, post plans, and share photos. When they realized that the photo-sharing feature was a big hit among the users, they pivoted to just that and kept iterating. Thanks to that, Instagram is now one of the top 5 social networking platforms in the world, with over 2.3 billion users.

Key Takeaways

Getting clarity on MVPs, POCs, and prototypes will help you apply the right approach at the right time:

  • POCs to validate your idea without commitment
  • Prototypes to refine UX/UI concepts and gather feedback
  • MVPs to demonstrate core functionality for customer validation

While subtle, these distinctions are important. A prototype may evolve into an MVP. A successful POC may pave the way for prototyping user flows. In the end, clarity of purpose allows each step to maximize value.