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April 10, 2018Jennifer King
Oscar Merry may have studied aviation software in university, but it was building for voice that have made his career really soar.
“I observed people's reactions when they experienced voice technology for the first time and it was an incredible feeling,” says Merry. “That made me realize how big voice was going to be, and how much I wanted to be a part of it.”
An Alexa Champion, Merry has already built a three-pronged career in voice. Merry co-founded Opearlo, the UK’s first voice design studio and where he built skills for big-name European clients like Unilever. The studio also publishes its own consumer-facing skills such as Find My Phone, the popular Lifebot Series, and a growing number of games, including their newest release called Guess My Name. His skills are highly compensated by the Alexa Developer Rewards program, including his first published skill called Inspire Me.
“The developer rewards are the first step in monetizing your skills,” says Merry. “If you want to build a business on Alexa, then the developer rewards are vital for that.”
Merry says his success with Alexa Developer Rewards has helped him perfect some of the “secret sauce” necessary to building highly engaging—and profitable—Alexa skills. And most recently, it allowed him to build a skill for Echo Show called Panda Rescue, which won $12,500 in cash prizes for Best Skill Designed for Echo Show in the Alexa Skills Challenge: Kids.
“Alexa Developer Rewards have definitely motivated us to invest more time in publishing our own Alexa skills, instead of focusing solely on agency work, which in turn means the rewards could go even higher,” says Merry.
Merry first learned about voice and Alexa in his previous employer’s technology innovation lab, which is where he also met his future business partner, Jess Williams.
“We proposed building an Alexa skill to help people manage their disability benefits,” says Merry. “My first voice experience was leading a team of developers to build a prototype. That got me thinking about all the endless use cases for voice.”
Wanting to learn more, Merry built Inspire Me outside of work and published it in 2016, as well as an Inspire Me flash briefing skill to help promote the standalone skill. By saying, “Alexa, Inspire Me,” customers can hear inspirational quotes from celebrities or other famous people. It also allows users to request recorded inspiration from a specific person, such as “Alexa, play Oprah Winfrey from Inspire Me.”
“It actually started out as a bit of fun, not to make money,” says Merry. “I just wanted to get a skill published because I was so excited about the technology, and that seemed like a great use case for it.”
Inspire Me may have started off as a bit of fun, but it has since earned him more than $30,000 in just six months.
“I was shocked when I first found out about the Alexa Developer Rewards,” says Merry. “It was a welcome surprise and it motivated me to continue to add content to the skill.”
Merry has reinvested some of his rewards to hire a contractor who continuously adds new content to Inspire Me, giving loyal users a constant supply of fresh, inspirational quotes.
The rewards have also allowed Merry and his team to continue operating and improving their most popular and top-earning skills. The Find My Phone skill, for example, can be costly to operate because it uses an external API to call the person’s phone. The rewards ensure the API and infrastructure costs of skills like these can be covered.
“The developer rewards are critical to helping us run these skills,” says Merry.
As a leader in voice design and the creator of some of the highest-earning skills in the Alexa Skills Store, Merry has a few lessons learned and best practices for anyone building for voice.
First, building engaging skills starts with designing a thoughtful voice experience. When designing for voice, pick the simplest use case possible and keep responses and user choices to a minimum. When Merry originally designed the Find My Phone skill, it was part of a “super-skill” with lots of other features: reminders, to-do lists, news, yoga, and more. Merry said the skill in its original form received very little usage, until they made Find My Phone a separate skill. Splitting up the functionality simplified the experience, which increased engagement.
Merry also stresses the importance of making skills discoverable by choosing an invocation name that describes the skill perfectly. For example, “Alexa, find my phone” is simple and easy to remember without having to recall the exact name of the skill. Promoting skills on social media and asking users to submit reviews can also make them easier to discover.
To continuously increase engagement, Merry says giving first-time users a “wow” experience and creating a positive first impression is important. It’s also key to continually invest in your skills to keep users coming back. Ensure content is fresh, and remind users to return to the skill via session closing and flash briefings.
Merry summarizes his learnings with this—to create delightful and useful skills that earn repeat engagement (and rewards), you have to provide an amazing user experience.
“If you build a skill people want to use, come back to, and share with their friends, you will be able to monetize it,” says Merry. “An amazing experience helps build a user base that can lead to developer rewards, and later to which you can monetize by offering additional content or even premium versions of your skill.”
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.