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Quick Thoughts: On Building MVPs and Prototypes

Recently, I participated in a roundtable conversation with Shanel Fields, Founder & CEO of MD Ally, hosted by “Technically 200 Talks.” We covered several topics, including stories of our respective paths building high-growth startups, insights about fundraising, and much more. We also discussed our experiences in the early stages of our business’ navigating the development and deployment of the first version of our product.

MVP vs. Prototype

New startup founders often have questions regarding the development of the first iteration of their solution, the minimal viable product (MVP). The terms MVP and prototype are often used interchangeably, however, they serve distinct purposes. An MVP represents the version of your product that contains only the features necessary to validate your idea with prospective customers. 

You can think of a prototype as a draft of the MVP. The prototype represents a simple design or sketch of an idea that may become an MVP. Prototypes are often nonfunctional or minimally functional (but not production-ready); prototypes are excellent tools for validating your assumptions before investing in the technical resources needed to execute an MVP. 

The MVP is a functional version of your product, but has a limited set of features, as it is designed to address the customer’s most compelling pain point. MVPs can be used to gather in-market customer feedback and discover additional pain points before investing more resources in a larger feature set. 

Tips for Developing a Successful MVP

The most common mistakes made during the MVP phase can be attributed to a lack of understanding of the customer, market and most compelling pain points.

Here are three tips to remember as you’re developing your MVP:

  1. Don’t over-engineer it. Never allow tech to become a barrier to solving a problem. Your job during the MVP phase is to identify your customer and understand their most compelling problem.
  2. Once you’ve identified the customer and their most compelling problem, develop a viable solution for addressing that single pain point. Then, deliver your solution to customer as soon as possible.
  3. Before moving on to expanding the feature-set, don’t forget to validate that your customer is willing to pay for the solution offered.

Listen to the full episode of “Technically 200 Talks with Shanel Fields and Kishau Rogers” to hear more stories of the path to building a high-growth startup. Also, visit the “Technically 200” website to subscribe and listen to the series.

Kishau Rogers

Kishau Rogers is an award-winning technology entrepreneur specializing in wrangling complexity using computer science, systems thinking, creativity, and common sense. She is the Founder & CEO of Time Study, Inc., a high-growth startup offering solutions for using machine learning, advanced natural language processing, and data science to automatically tell a story of how enterprise employees spend their time and its impact on the areas that matter. As the Founder and CEO of Time Study, Kishau is one of the first Black women in Virginia to raise millions in venture capital to scale her tech startup. She is also the owner of Websmith Studio and the editor of the bigThinking project, a resource for promoting the principles of systems thinking.

Kishau’s work is featured in Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, Entrepreneur, and Black Enterprise. In addition, she is a recipient of many awards, including the VCU Distinguished Alumni (in Computer Science), NAWBO Wells Fargo STEM award, the Lyn McDermid Community Impact Award, and the MBL Entrepreneur of the Year Award.

In her commitment to using technology as a tool for social good, she also serves as an advisor to organizations and initiatives like AI for Afrika, Think Of Us, WAAW Foundation, Level Up Ventures, Virginia Commonwealth University Department of Computer Science, the first U.S. White House Hackathon for Foster Care and SheHacks Africa, a software engineering intensive providing training to women & girls across Africa.

She holds a Computer Science degree and has over twenty-five years of experience in the technology industry and more than 15 years of entrepreneurial leadership.

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