22 March, 2016

3 mins

How to Build Your Own Bot Store

Messaging has exploded in popularity over the last decade and companies like WeChat have taken it to a new level by turning their product into a platform. Bots have emerged as the next innovation that will change the way we interact and buy products.

“Along with its basic communication features, WeChat users in China can access services to hail a taxi, order food delivery, buy movie tickets, play casual games, check in for a flight, send money to friends, access fitness tracker data, book a doctor appointment, get banking statements, pay the water bill, find geo-targeted coupons, recognize music, search for a book at the local library, meet strangers around you, follow celebrity news, read magazine articles, and even donate to charity … all in a single, integrated app.” 
— Connie Chan (Andreessen Horowitz)

What’s the key to their success? Conversational commerce. Giving users the ability to buy products and services naturally using bots attracts the right kind of developers which, in turn, attract more users. WeChat’s success in China has also lead to an annual revenue per user of $7 USD – by comparison, WhatsApp only making a (very lonely) $1 USD.

The OpenChannel API lets you build a bot store in a weekend and integrates with your Stripe account to enable easy payments. Developers get paid instantly, you have the option of taking a transaction fee on each sale (I recommend 1%) and OpenChannel doesn’t charge a transaction fee!

Submitting Bots

The first step to creating a great bot store is to encourage developers to build and submit bots for your platform. A great developer community portal lets developers sign up, checkout your API docs, ask questions on forums and submit new bots. If your’re interested in learning more about developer portals, I wrote an article on How to Build an Awesome Developer Community.

Your developer portal is going to be really important for developer onboarding. The easier it is to submit bots to your platform, the more success you’ll have when creating a vibrant, innovative developer community. This is the place where developers can manage and submit apps (the same concept applies to bots – just with different fields). Developers need to be able to create, update and submit bots – anything that they can use to help manage and track their bots. However, an open door policy for bots becomes dangerous when payments are involved and you’ll need to make sure that you control the quality of the bot experience.

Inspecting and Approving Bots

Once submitted, you’ll need to verify the identity and authenticity of the bot’s author as well as the bots compliance with any of the security, technical or marketing requirements that you’ve set out in your developer agreement.

Besides a cursory bot inspection and author identity verification, there isn’t much else that needs to be done to validate bot quality. This is because typically, the bot source code and service is hosted by the author and can be changed at any time without notification.

Browsing and Buying Bots

There’s no point to having bots if users can’t find them. I suggest creating a special bot specifically for bot discovery (@botstore) where users can ask for different types of bots.

“I’m hungry, where can I order a pizza?” –Brian

“You can try @pizzapizza, @dominos or @pizzahut” –BotStore

In addition to your in-chat experience, it’s important to have a web based bot store that provides a more detail into your bot store experience. A web based bot store will help you with show off your bots and attract more attention.

The Future

Bots have become a huge success and China has already seen the impact of conversational commerce. It’s exciting to see how fast it’s all evolving as the future forms right in front of our eyes.

“The leaders in this space — Kik, WeChat, Line, Facebook, Slack, and Telegram — all have their own ideas about how this is all going to play out. But one thing I think we can all agree on is that chat is going to be the world’s next great operating system: a Bot OS”
— Ted Livingston (CEO of Kik)

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