As the founder of VoiceApps, Jeff Bolton has a long history of solving problems with technology.
In the early days of the internet, the then 15-year-old Bolton built online bulletin boards to communicate with his friends. Then, while aboard a Navy submarine, he wrote code to automatically track test scores. When Bolton joined Fanatics, he helped to build the enterprise architecture that would eventually lead the retail company to become an official merchandiser for the National Football League.
Bolton continued this pattern of innovation by building Alexa skills. Skills are like apps for Alexa that let customers use their voices to perform everyday tasks like checking the news, listening to music, and playing games. Today, Bolton is the CEO of VoiceApps – a self-serve platform that provides people without coding skills the tools to create and monetize their own Alexa skills.
Bolton realized the importance of voice skills after purchasing his first Alexa device. “I called my wife and I asked her, what can I develop for this new Alexa device?” says Bolton. “She told me about an article where a thief said that a small dog was a bigger deterrent than a big dog because they make so much noise.” Bolton then created his first Alexa skill: Guard Dog, which helps deter criminals by playing dog barking, growling, and snarling sounds while users are away from home. Users can select the type of dog that they want to guard their home – from more reticent dogs to noisier ones.
Bolton then went on to develop Sleep and Relaxation Sounds, which plays over 125 ambient sounds to help users sleep peacefully or block out unwanted noise, as well as Sleep Tales – Relaxing Bedtime Stories for All, which reads sleep-inducing bedtime stories with soothing background sounds to help users fall and stay asleep.
Bolton was impressed with how he was able to build profitable revenue streams with Alexa. He wanted to empower other developers to do the same. He founded VoiceApps so that developers can build, test, and configure Alexa skills using simple drag-and-drop components and built-in tools.
“We handle all of the backend code so that developers can build Alexa skills on an intuitive interface,” says Bolton. “After building their skills, developers can click a button and publish them to the Alexa developer console, a collection of tools, APIs, reference solutions, and documentation to make it easier to build for Alexa.”
VoiceApps also makes it simple for developers to make money on Alexa. The solution supports several monetization options such as one-time purchases, subscriptions, and consumables. Bolton has seen a variety of skills succeed on Alexa. Over the years, he has compiled a list of “must-haves” for developers to make money on Alexa:
1. Build a product that addresses a real need
The first step to monetization is picking the right product. Users are more likely to engage with your Alexa skill if it addresses a real and pressing need. “Any product can be monetized, but whether it’ll be successful is a different story,” says Bolton. “Picking a product that serves a need will keep people coming back.”
Bolton references skills he developed that help ease people into a state of deep and restful sleep. According to Bolton, people are willing to pay for a quality night’s sleep and, therefore, are more likely to engage with premium or paid content.
Before building your Alexa skill, consider the possible pain points of your users. Then, use those pain points to guide your development.
2. Understand how to implement In-Skill Purchases
There are several paths to monetization on Alexa, but you will need to implement in-skill purchasing before you can start making real money. In-skill purchasing lets you sell premium content, such as game features and interactive stories, in custom skills.
To implement in-skill purchases, you will need to:
Check out how to add in-skill purchasing directly from the Alexa developer console here.
After configuring in-skill purchases, you can explore different monetization options like subscriptions, consumables, and one-time purchases.
3. Explore subscription-based models
When users purchase a subscription, they pay a certain amount on a recurring basis in exchange for premium features or additional content. Users can cancel the subscription at any time.
For example, you can provide a certain number of free sounds to your user. If a user wants to unlock more sounds, they can sign up for a subscription and gain access to premium content on an ongoing basis. You can also add benefits like higher streaming quality, additional levels, or unlimited turns with a premium subscription.
Subscriptions are a powerful monetization tool because they support a relatively steady stream of income. However, confusing subscription models can harm the user experience. It is important to provide users with a clear and transparent experience.
4. Design consumables
Consumables are content or features that a user can choose to purchase, deplete, and then purchase again. For example, in-game currency, extra lives, or limited-time passes for premium content are common types of consumables.
“You can allow users to buy either a single token or a pack consisting of multiple tokens,” says Bolton. “Then users can spend those tokens to unlock current games, or for games that we will release in the future.”
Follow this link to view tips for adding consumables to your Alexa skills.
5. Support one-time purchases
One-time purchases unlock access to certain features or content within your Alexa skill. Unlike subscriptions or consumables, one-time purchases do not expire or require monthly payments. For example, a skill that provides users with a single fact every day can give users the option to purchase a fact from a particular category. Upsells typically mention of a specific product followed by a question asking if they want to learn more about it.
To offer a one-time purchase, it is important to identify the best opportunities and messaging to convert users. Learn how to upsell your Alexa skill’s premium content here.
“Different monetization models work best for different kinds of skills,” Bolton says. “It’s really important to consider your unique offering before diving into development. For some apps, it makes sense to charge the user upfront for the skill. You can also develop subscription-based and freemium content models. It’s important for developers to first understand their users. Pay attention to the needs of your users – and you’ll find yourself making serious money.”