Soon after Amazon Alexa launched in November 2014, Piyush Hari attended a session on building Alexa skills across the street from his office. He was struck by the potential of voice in shaping the next generation of customer experiences in natural and intuitive ways. That inspiration, plus a brewing desire to try his hand at entrepreneurialism, led him to quit the job he’d held for nine years at a Fortune 500 technology company since he graduated with a master’s degree from MIT.
“I was bitten by the entrepreneurship bug,” says Hari.
After leaving his full-time job in October 2015 he began working as an independent consultant developing mobile and web applications. In 2017 he turned that work into Dilli Labs. Not only is Dilli a nod to Delhi, India, where Hari grew up, it’s also an acronym for Hari’s work-culture philosophy: do it with love and love it.
One day, an Alexa challenge to win an Amazon Tap, an Alexa-enabled portable Bluetooth speaker, prompted Hari to create three Alexa skills in one night, including Doctor Pooch. They became some of the first few hundred Alexa skills, and Doctor Pooch went on to become a trending skill in 2020, with over 3,200 daily downloads. At present, more than 5,000 users use the skill daily.
Hari began offering voice assistant applications through Dilli Labs. “I would tell my clients for whom I developed a website or app, ‘You need to have a voice strategy. What if we developed an Alexa skill that does the same thing your web applications do? They were wowed by that idea. That’s how it all started.”
A business growth plan based on Alexa Skills
Dilli Labs has created custom Alexa skills for clients ranging from individuals and small businesses to Fortune 500 companies. Hari’s business growth plan is to keep bringing great ideas to life using Alexa skills.
With that growth plan in mind, Dilli Labs built – VOICITY - in collaboration with a prominent city in USA. VOICITY is a software-as-a-service (SaaS) solution to enable cities worldwide to develop a voice interface to city services and improve the lives of its citizens.
"Some of the many interesting use cases of a voice assistant powered by VOICITY includes notifying city residents of emergencies, allowing them to call a city department or to send emergency alerts to their friends and family, finding nearest amenities such as tennis courts or recreation centers and reporting civic issues such as graffiti or potholes", says Hari. Some of the products created as part of VOICITY helped connect Dilli Labs with a Fortune 500 client that was impressed with their innovation.
5 tips for developers growing their Alexa business
Hari has five tips for developers who want to use Alexa skills to grow their businesses.
1. Plant a seed! Keep planting.
“Developers are like farmers: they have to sow many seeds and only some will germinate,” says Hari. “You have to be persistent because not every product I worked on monetized or led to more clients.”
Hari’s first Alexa skill, Doctor Pooch, was inspired by his own dog, who would beg for food at the dinner table. He built the Alexa skill so that he could just ask Alexa whether the food was safe for his dog to eat, rather than using greasy fingers to tap on his devices.
Because developing Alexa skills can be fast, free, and simple, Hari says developers should run with an idea, take it to market, and then use the feedback to improve. Developers can share their portfolio of Alexa skills on their website, and some of them will lead to monetization.
2. Start with a template.
“When Amazon developed support for multimodal skills, which I had to embed in a client’s skill, I used a sample template, and saved a lot of time,” says Hari.
Amazon publishes many templates for developers to quickly get started.
3. Demonstrate your Alexa skills in a portfolio to get new customers.
Impress prospects or existing clients by showing off your Amazon Alexa skills on devices such as your smartphone. Get them excited about the voice revolution, and they might want to hire you to write their next Alexa skill.
“Almost all of my clients who hired me to write their Alexa skills were existing customers for whom I was consulting,” says Hari. “I showed them Doctor Pooch and other skills, proposed a use case that fit their business, and they hired me.”
4. Iterate your Alexa skills.
Instead of waiting a long time to publish an Alexa skill with all features, publish it and iterate on it.
When Hari launched Doctor Pooch, the Alexa skill answered questions about dogs. Later, it started answering questions about cats. Still later, Hari embedded in-skill purchasing that gave it a monetization channel. He then added a feature for playing music for pets to alleviate separation anxiety. “If I waited forever to implement all those features, I would still not have published Doctor Pooch,” says Hari.
5. Don’t lose hope.
If an Alexa skill doesn’t yield the expected results initially, don’t lose hope. Whatever developers learn from creating one Alexa skill can be used to implement a successful idea down the line. The product you created to support the skill might be refactored and reused for an Alexa skill later.
“Don’t think about the outcome when you write your Alexa skills or the product supporting the skill,” says Hari. “The effort you put in will not go in vain.”