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April 25, 2018Jennifer King
Boston web developer Gal Shenar had no idea that building an Alexa skill for fun would earn him more than $25,000 in only six months.
“I was surprised to learn Good Night had become one of the most used lifestyle skills,” said Shenar. “From then on, I started investing more and more time in building new skills that are both fun for me and highly engaging for users.”
Intrigued by an Alexa hackathon, Shenar pored over the online Alexa developer resources and quickly built his first skill. That skill, though simple, was so engaging that Shenar soon received a call from Amazon. He had earned money from the Alexa Developer Rewards program as a result of his skill’s high customer engagement.
“I love being part of an exciting new technology that plays such a huge part in people’s lives,” says Shenar. “Getting paid to create skills that help people do things that are fun and useful is an awesome incentive to keep building.”
With more than 30 published Alexa skills in less than 12 months, Shenar has “cracked the code” for building top-earning skills and offers some pointers on how others can too.
Shenar first learned about Alexa skills after attending an Amazon Robotics lab tour. At the time, the computer scientist and Vistaprint web developer had little interest in voice. But his interest quickly grew after he built a movie trivia skill with a hackathon team following the tour. Then he immediately started thinking about building a skill of his own.
When building his first skill, Good Night, Shenar wanted to explore possibilities with Alexa, but without starting with something overly complex. At the same time, he wanted to build a skill that was unique and something users would look forward to experiencing every day.
“I thought it would be fun to have Alexa tell you good night,” says Shenar. “Not everyone has someone to tell them good night, so I wanted to give them a nice, comforting phrase to fall asleep to.”
Shenar curated a collection of different phrases so that when the customer invokes the skill, Alexa responds with a different quote. He also refreshes the phases from time to time, so his customers won’t often hear the same ones repeated.
“It was a great way for me to experiment with Alexa, and it was obviously something that people really liked,” says Shenar. “It’s the simple, yet somehow personal interaction with Alexa that keeps all those users coming back for more and the rewards checks coming in.”
With a 4.4-star rating in the Alexa Skills Store, Good Night proved to Shenar that developing for voice could be more than a hobby—it could be a source of income. Since then, he has built more than 30 skills, published under his company name, Stoked Skills. The skills cover a gamut of topics, from surf weather reporting to meditation and workout skills.
Earning developer rewards keeps Shenar moving forward with new skills and improving existing ones. He has reinvested his rewards in Amazon S3 hosting and in recording quality voice and audio for his top-earning skills, including Good Night, Escape the Room, and 30 Day Pushup Challenge. Shenar also receives AWS promotional credits to help defray the operating costs associated with his ambient sound skills, which stream high-quality sound for sleep, relaxation, and focus.
His latest skills—Escape the Room and Word Play—are helping him earn even more. “After I mastered basic skills with simple interactions, I moved on to more complicated skills,” says Shenar. “Escape the Room and Word Play are more complex, in-depth experiences that keep customers engaged for hours—some as long as 15 and 30 hours at a time.”
Shenar describes Escape the Room as a voice-first version of popular “escape rooms” around the world, where users are locked in a room and search for clues and manipulate objects to free themselves. Word Play is a gameshow-like experience where players have to guess the hidden letters of a secret word Alexa has chosen. Both are far more complex than Shenar’s earlier skills, yet the level of customer engagement tells him that they will continue earning rewards.
Shenar offers some lessons learned to develop top-earning skills:
Shenar plans to continue making money with his Alexa skills. In addition to receiving rewards payouts, he plans to incorporate in-skill purchases like subscriptions and one-time purchases to give customers access to premium content. For example, he wants to offer Escape the Room customers additional rooms and features via premium expansion packs, as well as hint packs to help guide them through the experience.
“The Alexa Developer Rewards are an awesome incentive for me to continue building Alexa skills with quality user experiences,” says Shenar. “And I definitely look forward to leveraging the new monetization features.”
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.