Invocable is shutting down

Sep 2017, Hero City @ San Mateo, CA.

Almost two years ago Maksim and I started Storyline (now Invocable) to make the creation of voice applications simple. We focused on hard problems in the space for which there was a growing demand and no existing solution. We built and launched two amazing products:

  • Storyline, a code-free Alexa Skills builder.
  • Invocable, a visual design tool for voice.

We’re proud of everything we accomplished here at Invocable, and we wanted to say thank you to all of our customers. We learned so much working with you and we are indebted to you for your support and partnership. But all good things must end, and over the next three months we’ll be shutting down Invocable and we’ll reach out to help you transition your skills to Voiceflow, a platform that we’ve partnered with to streamline the process.


Reasoning

In 2017 we started Storyline (now Invocable) with the goal of democratizing the creation of Alexa skills.

We thought (and still think) that voice is gonna be the next interface and we’ll get the major piece of the pie by being one of the pioneers in the field and launching products to support that future.

At that time (September 2017) we had two assumptions in mind:

  1. Voice apps are simple. If we build a platform that gives people an ability to create voice apps w/o coding, they’d love to use it.
  2. Non-tech creative folks are actually able to create good voice apps.

It took us a year to understand that we were wrong with our assumptions:

  1. Voice apps are not simple, they are hard. You need to be a great voice designer to build an engaging voice app.
  2. Non-tech creative folks are actually able to create good content, but the app is not just content. A skill is like a huge product on itself, rather than just a content piece. And most content creators are not good at product management.

For our product (DIY platform) to work, there has to be a simple, repeatable, and scalable use case like a landing page for websites. And we haven’t discovered one in the past 19 months.

That’s why we decided to pivot from a “DIY platform” to “Design tool for voice” in October 2018.

But after 2 months working on a design tool we understood that it doesn’t make sense: even though the smart speakers’ adoption snowballs, people are still using the same things on their Echo devices as four years ago — music, news, reminders, and other commands.

I said “commands” because it’s exactly what a perfect voice interaction is — a very short, concise, and flexible command that can pass over a vast amount of information, including context and parameters. For example, “order me the same pepperoni pizza I had a week ago.” We call them integrations, because the brain of this voice app is somewhere else — in a restaurant’s CRM, Uber’s backend, or NYT’s content management system. These voice apps have nothing to do with the design; it’s about getting the intents/utterances right. There’s nothing to “design” here because the shorter it is, the better.

We believe that games and interactive stories will continue to work fine on Alexa because the entertainment concept is built into the experience itself. But you can’t “platformize” gaming since games, especially voice first games, need to introduce new disrupting gameplays which you can’t pre-build as a template. “Voice design tool for gaming” is not much of an opportunity either.

To summarize:

  1. The market of a tool for creating voice applications relies on the success of voice applications, which is not there yet.
  2. A voice app works well as an integration — very short, concise request that is correctly recognized and processed. “play the latest album from Eminem” is a good example. But there’s nothing to design here; all these applications are custom integrations, sometimes made by vertical players (like DoorDash skill for ordering).
  3. There are voice apps that need to be designed, but NLP and NLU quality are not good enough now to support their growth. They’re like IVRs from the 90s, but on Alexa.

Important Dates

There will be three phases of the Invocable retirement:

  • Through July 15th, 2019: You can continue to prototype Alexa skills and upload them to your local Echo devices.
  • Through August 15th, 2019: You will no longer be able to create new prototypes, but you will be able to download and export existing prototypes.
  • September 15th, 2019: The service will be fully retired.

Next Steps

There are several steps that you will want to take between now and the time Invocable is retired.

  1. Move your skills to Voiceflow. We’ve partnered with the team at Voiceflow to make this transition as easy as possible. We’re also working on a tool for you to transfer all the skills from Invocable to Voiceflow in a matter of minutes, no need to manually copy-paste anything. You can sign up here.
  2. Download all your projects. Whether you decide to move your skills to Voiceflow or not, it makes sense to download all your skills in a JSON format to be able to use it afterward to build out the skill with code or on another platform. To do that, please email us at maksim@invocable.com with your project ID and we’ll take it from there.

Paid Customers

If you’re a paid customer, we’ve canceled your subscription, so you won’t be charged anymore. If you’ve purchased a yearly plan, we’ve refunded you all the money, it will arrive at your bank account in about 5–10 days.

If you have additional questions or concerns, email me at vasili@invocable.com and I’ll do my best to help.


A special thank you to our investors who believed in us from the very beginning. It was humbling to be working with such sharp folks from before we had a team or a product.

And thank you most of all to the Storyliners — all of those who made Storyline what it is! It was a privilege to work with such smart and impactful people.

Vasili & Max