I’m a web developer at heart, with a particular passion for back-end development (APIs and technical architecture). Having worked for several startups as well as some Fortune 500 companies, I’ve had some incredible opportunities to grow my strengths (back-end development) and identify my weaknesses (front-end development).
When the Alexa Skills Kit was introduced, I immediately saw the potential for professionals like me to build amazing voice-first experiences and fill the feature gaps for a device that was starting to gain serious attention by consumers and media outlets. After a bit of exploration, experimentation, failure, and a whole lot of learning, I ended up building a series of Alexa Skills which eventually became the most popular Skills in the entire Skill Store.
With continued user growth and the launch of the Alexa Developers Rewards program, it became clear that it was time to convert my endeavors into a company. Thus, Invoked Apps was born as a voice application development company focused on building engaging and innovative voice experiences.
Most of my Alexa Skills were created out of exploration, self need, or a combination of both. My first Skill, Bargain Buddy, was a simple Skill capable of looking up and reporting back the currently daily deal from woot.com and meh.com. It was such a niche Skill that it didn’t attract many users, but I learned a tremendous amount about the composition of an Alexa Skill and the platform’s capabilities which opened up a whole new world of opportunity.
My second Skill was Opening Bell, the first way to look up stock prices with Alexa using spoken company names rather than ticker symbols, and a way to scratch my own itch as an aspiring stock market investor. For a short while it became one of the most popular stock market Skills despite only a ~3 star rating (Alexa’s NLU accuracy with company names can be spotty), but was eventually overrun by the major stock market platforms, then, naturally, native Alexa functionality.
Everything changed though when I released my first Ambient Sounds Skill (and the first of its kind on Alexa). Appropriated dubbed “Rain Sounds”, the Skill simply played a sound loop of rain to help people sleep, relax, meditate, or focus. It quickly became one of the top Alexa Skills in the market, trailing just slightly behind the Jeopardy! Skill, even though my original intent was only to help keep me asleep while my upstairs neighbor stomped around at ungodly hours of the morning. The surprising success of the Skill caused me to “double down” on the ambient sounds concept with the release 40 more different sounds (and counting), all with varying levels of success. Today the Skills help over 175,000 Alexa users fall asleep every night.
Every Skill I’ve published is custom-built with the Node.js Alexa Skills Kit. While there are some really great drag-and-drop solutions available today, I find that the flexibility of a custom-built Skill is vital to long-term product growth. With the Alexa Skills Kit and some custom scripts using the Alexa Skill Management API, I’m also able to make uniform changes across my entire suite of 40+ Ambient Sound Skills with just a couple clicks, something that would otherwise take hours with point-and-click solutions.
What is one piece of advice you would give in regards to marketing/exposure for Alexa skills?Thanks! One of the best ways to get more traffic to your Alexa Skills is to earn a featured spot in the Alexa Skill Store banners, category sliders, or the weekly “What’s new with Alexa?” email. These promotional placements can drive tens of thousands of new users to your Skill over the course of a week, but your Skill needs to have natural growth, high levels of engagement, excellent retention, and a respectable average review rating in order to capture Amazon’s attention as a potential promotional candidate. Go out there and build something consumers want, figure out how to keep them coming back, and earn their 5-star reviews! Success will follow 😃
Self-sustainability is currently my #1 goal for Invoked Apps. This means adding premium content and features which can be unlocked with In-Skill Purchases to generate predictable long-term revenue, limit financial risk, and open opportunities to invest in new concepts.
Find something you’re passionate about, figure out how it fits into a voice-first world, and run with it. You’re more likely to build a top-notch Alexa Skill when it’s about something you’re genuinely interested in or need in your daily life. I never thought that building a Skill to keep me asleep during the night would be such a wild success, so who knows what crazy idea could take off! Once you build the Skill that you love, talk about it, share your development experience, and get feedback from the larger Alexa community via the Alexa Developer Community Slack.