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February 23, 2018Jennifer King
When Tom Hewitson began tinkering with the Alexa Skills Kit, he never imagined his skills would make enough money for him to build a six-person studio in just six months.
A former journalist turned product designer, Hewitson decided to experiment with Alexa after receiving several requests from clients about opportunities with voice. He built his first skill, the popular Would You Rather game skill, in February 2017. Two months later, he received a call from Amazon with some surprising news—his skill was so popular that he earned money as part of Alexa Developer Rewards.
“Getting the news from Amazon about the rewards is just about the best news you can get as a freelancer working on your own,” he says. “I knew there was something special about voice, so I decided to make a pivot and focus exclusively on building skills for Alexa.”
Today, Hewitson’s UK-based company, called labworks.io, is a conversation design studio that produces some of the most engaging skills in the Alexa Skills Store today.
The initial rewards inspired Hewitson to do more with voice, hiring a full-time developer to help him build a second skill called True or False, which proved to be even more successful.
Both skills continued to grow in engagement and popularity, reaching hundreds of thousands of users per month. Revenue from the rewards program continued to roll in, which inspired him to lean into voice and take his business to the next level.
"We've learned that what works is building a great experience for the end consumer,” he says. “If you do that really well, then you get rewarded. I personally think that's a very fair exchange.”
In just six months, his company grew from a one-man consultancy to a team of six full-time employees, including three developers, a business development manager, and a writer. Hewitson credits the Alexa Developer Rewards Program as the “fuel behind that growth.” As a result of the growth, he has been able to expand his skill catalog to five Alexa skills and continually add fresh content to his games.
“Everyone's role in the company is made possible by Alexa Developer Rewards,” he says. “The company basically exists because of the rewards program.”
Today, labworks.io has four game and trivia Alexa skills. After Hewitson’s first successful games took off, he saw the opportunity to continue building within this genre of skills.
“These are the kinds of games that you couldn't have built on an existing gaming platform like a PC or even a mobile phone,” he says. “I like to think voice games are facilitating conversations between the people who are playing them. That feels more natural than via mobile or on a PC.”
To ensure each voice-enabled gaming experience is delightful, Hewitson and his team start with the customer. Before anyone on his team writes a new line of code, they spend hours poring over skill usage data to deeply understand user engagement.
“I always come at product design from a scientific mentality, testing hypotheses about what kinds of interactions people want,” he says. “With hundreds of thousands of users each month, we have a lot of data about what people do and don't like, which helps us make better decisions about what we should build next.”
Hewitson also likes to think voice has enabled him to build a new category of games that aligns with one of his passions—building fun experiences that provide educational value. With the True or False skill, for example, he helps users learn interesting facts about the world. And for his first skill, Would You Rather, he enables people to learn fun facts about each other while interacting with a game in a more natural way.
Hewitson believes that designing for voice is quite different from designing for any other user interface. Product design today typically centers on a visual interface, but to be a successful voice designer, you have to start with the words. And you need to enable natural, responsive, and unconstrained interactions. Unlike a graphical user interface (GUI), you need to let the user drive the interaction.
“Your skill has to be able to handle anything the user wants to do. You need to involve users throughout the design process to understand what it is they’re going to say,” he says. “The technology is almost secondary to that.”
Hewitson says building a business with Alexa has been very rewarding, and he plans to continue building engaging voice experiences with Alexa. He also intends to continue making his skills available to Alexa users around the world to reach more customers (and reap more rewards).
“When I built my first skill, I never expected to be making money from it, much less owning a business that builds voice experiences,” he says. “Without the Alexa Developer Rewards program, we wouldn’t be a business. It’s because of this program that we can focus on building the best experiences we possibly can for customers.”
Hewitson is hiring talented developers and voice designers to join him in the next phase of his journey. Contact him to learn more.
When you create delightful skills with compelling content, customers win. You can make money through Alexa skills using in-skill purchasing or Amazon Pay for Alexa Skills. You can also make money for eligible skills that drive some of the highest customer engagement with Alexa Developer Rewards. Learn more about how you can make money with Alexa skills, and download our guide to learn which product best meets your needs.