From Student to Voice Business Owner in One Year: Ilarna’s Bet on the Voice Industry
Emma Martensson Sep 02, 2019
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Ilarna Nche is only 23 years old but has already started her own voice studio. She comes from Cambridge, UK and graduated last year with a Multimedia Technology and Design Degree from the University of Kent. “My interest in voice began when I purchased an Amazon Echo Dot for my mother at Christmas in 2016 and I was incredibly fascinated by its features,” Ilarna says. Following that Christmas she purchased her own Amazon Echo Dot and began playing with Alexa skills, such as ‘Beat the Intro’. She was surprised to discover these skills were made by third party developers and wanted to try to make one herself. “I was excited at the thought that other people could be using skills I have created on their Alexa devices,” she says. At the time, Ilarna had no experience in voice; her skillset revolved around web and mobile development.

After about four months of developing skills, Ilarna received an email saying that she had earned developer rewards. “It gave me the drive to continue developing skills,” she says. The developer rewards motivated her to continue updating and improving her skills, ultimately providing a better user experience which now opens the door for her to earn money and building a business.

Notable early achievements by Ilarna includes being a finalist in the Alexa Skills Challenge: Tech for Good with ‘Agent Do Good’, and winning in the Alexa Skills Challenge: Kids with ‘Music Bop Adventures’, which to date is still one of her most popular skills. The ‘Music Bop Adventures’ skill came about when Ilarna decided she wanted to create an activity to encourage kids to stay off their screens. “My mother runs a childcare service and this was a brilliant way to test the skill,” she says. The skill encourages physical activity and incorporates unique audio, and has been appreciated by parents and kids alike:

“I have two daughters - 10 and 3, and they love this. Easy enough for the three year old to follow and kept them busy and active while I was cooking tea. Please add more, love the concept! Imagination, listening, and action, brilliant!” – britishusa.

Today, Ilarna has created 30 skills and runs her own voice business, Adassa Innovations. She used the prize money from the Alexa Skills Challenges to start her business; investing in software and equipment, in addition to renovating her garage. The garage is now her office, and this is where she creates all her Alexa skills. With the ability to monetise skills and earn more money, she sees a future in voice. Ilarna thinks voice is becoming a high growing industry, and is excited to play in this space as it is something she has become very passionate about.

Use Imagination and Listen to Alexa Users for Skill Ideas

“Most of the skill ideas I come up with come to me in the strangest places,” she says, “like for example in the shower.” Ilarna keeps all the ideas, realistic or not, in a notebook and hopes to one day bring them to life. For every idea she comes up with, she browses the Alexa Skills Store to see if it has already been done because, she says, “It is all about making original, unique skills in a marketplace where you are competing against thousands of other skills.” She also does research by reading reviews, on other developers’ skills as much as her own, to get customer feedback. Although she thinks it is impossible to please everyone, her view is that she can use bad reviews to improve her skills and continue learning.

On average, it takes Ilarna 1-2 weeks to create a skill. The more skills she creates, the more templates and resources she makes for herself and with it the development time shortens. She recommends other developers to gain experience by building several skills whilst continuously improving the ones already published. Ilarna follows a checklist whereby she alternates developing a new skill then updating an existing one, and so on.

Build Great Free Skills, Then Earn Money with In-Skill Purchasing

Ilarna has been keen to experiment with in-skill purchasing (ISP), adopting it in several of her skills. “I focus on how to make the free version a great experience, and this in turn helps convert users into paying customers,” she says. A skill that is engaging and encourages the customers to come back is her foundation for any ISP skill. She also emphasizes the importance of content, saying “content is a big plus” and that “investing time and effort in adding more and better content provides a better customer experience and in return users come back to your skill.”

At the moment, Ilarna is testing different in-skill products, from subscriptions to consumables and one-time purchases. “Consumables seem to be the most popular form of in-skill purchasing in my skills so far,” she says.

She continues, “For each skill I develop, I aim to provide a different ISP experience.” Ilarna also adapts her upsell timing based on the type of in-skill product. For instance, she has added in-skill products consisting of additional gameplays for users who have run out of the original content, which means they can continue to enjoy playing. For these type of ISPs, where it provides access to additional premium content, she upsells occasionally after the customers have finished their game. If the in-skill product adds a form of aid to help the customers win the game, she upsells occasionally when the customers are unsure or stuck.

With her skill ‘Riddle Time’, she originally had one consumable (life pack) but she noticed that customers wanted to be able to get another riddle if they got the answer wrong. Based on this, she added a second consumable (unlock pack) which is offered when users give the wrong answer. The unlock pack has since seen an average offer to purchase conversion of 30.5%, with as high as 86.7% in one week.

“It is a fantastic feeling seeing customers buying and enjoying the products you have worked hard on,” she says and continues, “It is also great having the opportunity to earn money.”

Voice is Being Integrated into Everyday Life, Everywhere

Whilst she has the coding down, an area Ilarna thinks she needs to improve upon is marketing. Right now she relies solely on organic customers and reviews. Her next step is to promote her skills on social media to create more customer awareness of her skills.

Another thing she is excited to learn more about is Alexa Presentation Language (APL), version 1.1. Moving forward, Ilarna will integrate ISP and APL into all her skills. She notes it is important to make sure her ISP skills also provide a high quality screen experience. Her latest skill, Horse Race, is an example of how she optimised the skill with ISP and APL. She added touch wrappers and imagery that complements the skill well and as a result offers a better user experience with premium content.

Looking forward, she thinks more developers should be excited about voice. “It is a fast growing industry, which is being integrated into everyday life, everywhere. It is in your home, your car and on the go,” she says.

Ilarna did not expect to be where she is today a few years ago. She is excited and says “You never know what you can achieve until you try.” We can expect to see more from Ilarna in the future, as her journey in voice has just begun. 

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Grow Your Voice Business with Monetized Alexa Skills

With in-skill purchasing (ISP), you can sell premium content to enrich your Alexa skill experience. ISP supports one-time purchases for entitlements that unlock access to features or content in your skill, subscriptions that offer access to premium features or content for a period of time, and consumables which can be purchased and depleted. You define your premium offering and price, and we handle the voice-first purchasing flow. If you add ISP to your skill, you may be eligible to earn a voucher for the AWS Certified Alexa Skill Builder exam through the EU Perks ProgramDownload our introductory guide to learn more.