Voiceflow Lands Investment from the Alexa Fund
Voiceflow announced this morning that is has closed a new round of financing that includes the Alexa Fund as a new investor. True Ventures and Ripple Ventures, earlier investors in Voiceflow, also exercised their pro-rata rights and participated in the funding round.
Neither the round size nor valuation were disclosed. However, the timing of the funding is interesting. It apparently closed more than a month ago which was about six months after its previous seed round of $3.5 million closed in April. Traditionally, startup funding rounds are spaced about 18 months apart. Funding between traditional rounds are typically either strategic or based on the need for more growth capital.
“We’ve been chatting with them for a while. They’ve done a good job supporting their portfolio companies and giving them legitimacy in the space. We have a good relationship with Amazon and have launched a bunch of features with them. That led naturally to having a chat with the Alexa Fund. This was not financially motivated. It was strategic,” commented Braden Ream, co-founder and CEO of Voiceflow, in an interview with Voicebot.
Over 5,000 Alexa skills have been developed to date on Voiceflow and the skills currently receive more than 10 million monthly utterances or interactions from end-users. Most of Voiceflow’s developers are focused on launching in the U.S, but Ream told Voicebot that India, Japan, and Germany are growing quickly and they are starting to see activity in Brazil.
The Rise of No-Code Voice App Development
There has been a renewed focus on no-code and low-code developer tools in 2019. Microsoft recently launched Power Virtual Agents to make chatbot and voice app development easier for non-technical subject matter experts which is positioned as a no-code tool for customer service conversational agents. The company has also quietly launched a beta for Bot Framework Composer, technically a low-code visual editor for chatbots.
Samsung introduced Bixby Templates last month to make capsule development more accessible to designers. Amazon announced in February that Alexa Skill Blueprints, form-driven skills that can be built by anyone that can type, could be certified as publicly available skills for anyone to use. Skill Blueprints previously had only been available for personal use. And, over the summer Amazon launched Skill Flow Builder for simplified game and story voice app development.
“Developers have built some incredible voice experiences for customers over the years, but we’re always looking for ways to make it easier for them to design, develop and deploy engaging skills for Alexa,” said Paul Bernard, director of the Amazon Alexa Fund, in a prepared statement. There was some question when Skill Flow Builder was announced whether it was directly targeting low-code skill builders like Voiceflow. However, Amazon appears interested in an “all of the above” strategy when it comes to facilitating voice app development. They are launching their own tools and financing the rise of third-party tools simultaneously.
Low-Code Means More Design Focus
Ream also reiterated some points he made in a recent interview for the Voicebot Podcast Episode 112. The low-code environment helps reduce developer overhead and can speed time-to-market. However, he says speed is not the core objective. “That speed also allows you to focus more on the content and conversational design than the plumbing.”
Many of Voiceflow’s recent product updates have focused around supporting voice app designers streamline the creative and production processes. He says we should expect more changes on this front soon because that is where the market is headed. In terms of how things have changed over the past year, Ream commented, “There is a greater focus on the quality of voice experiences. We’ve seen an increased number of brands getting into the space. It’s less about building as many skills as we can. It’s more about how can we engage people and retain people. Amazon is weening developers off of rewards and it is indicative of a shift of quality over quantity.”