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April 20, 2018Jennifer King
Brown University student David Markey attended an Alexa developer conference in August 2017 to learn more about building Alexa skills. The conference literally changed his life.
“I had been coding since I was 14 but never for Alexa,” says Markey. “When Amazon launched Alexa Developer Rewards, I knew they were serious about it. I saw a big opportunity with Alexa, and I was eager to get started.”
Having experimented before with Alexa flash briefing skills, Markey built his first custom skill at the conference in only one day. On the train home, he created his second skill called Word of the Day Quiz. Within a month of launching Word of the Day Quiz, Markey had earned almost $1,500 in Alexa Developer Rewards.
“I was expecting just $10 or maybe $100, but nothing like this,” says Markey. “I've taken the rewards and reinvested them into creating even higher-quality Alexa skills that I would never have been able to create on my own dime.”
The rewards from the conference didn’t end there. A fellow attendee connected Markey with a leader at a management consulting company in Boston. A couple of days and interviews later, Markey had landed his dream job—waiting for him when he graduates later this year.
“The conference showed me just how extraordinary, sharing and generous the Alexa developer community is,” says Markey. “It also showed me the huge potential of a career developing for voice, and an almost instant flow of developer rewards proved it.”
Markey initially created the Word of the Day as a flash briefing skill. But with the Alexa Developer Rewards, he saw the biggest opportunity to make money by building custom Alexa skills.
“The flash briefing was popular, but a custom skill requires you to understand more about how Alexa works and how to pass requests and responses,” says Markey. “I went to the conference to learn how to leverage this technology so I could earn money with Alexa.”
Since users don’t often get to practice using new words in day-to-day conversation, Markey then created Word of the Day Quiz to reinforce what they learn in the flash briefing. The quiz provides a natural, entertaining way to test understanding and correct usage of the word.
Markey says the quiz is so engaging because it provides a sense of surprise and fun in the interactions. More than reciting a definition and an example of today’s word in a sentence, Markey records punchy and even silly dialog to make listening fun, then quizzes users to ensure they understand the word.
The quiz also delivers “reward” and “streak” content, including a witty song for first-time users and after playing the quiz for 30 days. There's also congratulatory content for milestones, like an epic movie-type announcement when users play the quiz for 3 days.
“I focused on creating a ‘streak’ mechanism to drive retention and give people a spark of joy in the skill,” says Markey. “Giving users something different to look forward to for being diligent helps ensure they return day after day.”
Markey still maintains the original flash briefing, which shares some of the quiz’s audio content. And by promoting the quiz in the daily flash briefing, Markey is able to build audience and user retention for the quiz, which further increases his reward payouts.
“I just tell flash briefing listeners they can reinforce the word they just heard by playing Word of the Day Quiz,” says Markey. “That’s how I drive new and repeat traffic to the custom skill, which keeps me involved in the developer rewards program.”
As a student on a budget, Markey took some financial risks when building Word of the Day Quiz. But as the monthly payouts began, he saw the opportunity to deliver even more amazing experiences.
Alexa Developer Rewards enable him to hire professional actors to add vocal variety to the skills and musicians to write and record music and songs. Perhaps more importantly, he is able to pay a fellow student to help him build more Alexa skills.
“I knew entertaining content would be crucial to driving retention on the skill,” says Markey. “It ended up being a good calculated risk. The rewards have allowed me to create even better content, and to pour even more effort into new skills like Price It Right.”
Price It Right is a multi-player game that lets users compete to guess the prices of actual items on Amazon.com. Markey combined everything he learned from Word of the Day Quiz to make Price It Right the most engaging, highest-retaining Alexa skill possible. He says those lessons include giving skills more personality, adding an occasional element of surprise, and reducing potential user confusion wherever possible.
“Once again, I’m able to pay for real music and real human audio for the interactions so Alexa can respond to players as a real human would,” says Markey. “And as far as I can tell from the stats, it has far exceeded my expectations for its ability to drive user engagement.”
Markey advises Alexa developers to leverage the power and openness of the Alexa developer community for help, tips, and feedback. Developers can participate in online forums, follow the Alexa blog, and attend workshops and conferences. But they can also reach out to experienced developers with an email or social media. Many of these—including Markey—include email address in their online skill descriptions and are excited to respond to questions and new ideas from fellow developers.
“Connect and work with other developers,” he says. “You’ll save yourself a lot of time and effort. It’s made a ton of difference in my own development experience just having someone to bounce ideas off of.”
But of all the tips Markey can share about building high-earning Alexa skills, the first and foremost is to build quality into your skill from the beginning. From the interaction model to the voices, from audio tracks to special effects, quality is what keeps people coming back.
“The reason I focus so heavily on the quality of my skills is because it really makes a difference in how you stand out and get noticed in the Alexa Skills Store,” says Markey. “People are hungry for voice experiences that provide human quality audio and feel as natural as a real conversation. When you give them that, that’s when you find your rewards.”
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.