Mark Cuban suggests an Amazon Alexa-based side hustle that can pay '$40 an hour': Here's what it takes

Mark Cuban, entrepreneur and owner of the Dallas Mavericks, speaks at the WSJTECH live conference in Laguna Beach, California, October 21, 2019.
Mike Blake | Reuters

Since Amazon's smart speaker Echo, featuring voice assistant Alexa, was released in 2014, it has sold more than 100 million units. That's a lot of people asking Alexa about the weather, telling her to play some Chuck Berry, or asking her to fact check trivia on the world's rich and famous.

Though users take full advantage of some of Alexa's various capabilities, she has lots of lesser-known abilities, too. In all, Alexa has more than 70,000 skills: She can order you a coffee at Starbucks or even a Lyft ride.

As billionaire investor Mark Cuban told CNBC Make It, there's money to be made in developing those skills and enabling them for others, because many people with an Echo may find a personalized device useful but lack the time or patience to personalize it themselves. That's why, he said, this is the side hustle he'd start if he needed to up his earnings.

Cuban made a similar point in 2019, Vox reports: "I told my kids, 'Just go get your neighbors and set up all of these Alexa tools and you'll make $25, $30, $40 an hour.'"

"The devices are incredibly powerful," Cuban tells Grow. "They can do so much more than what the default features offer." Some users are indeed willing to pay to get more out of their devices: Companies such as Best Buy and HelloTech charge $99 and $79 for set up and personalization of a smart speaker, respectively.

If you're comfortable with the technology, you could start a side hustle by offering to tailor an Echo to the needs of friends, neighbors, and other people in your community. If you have some knowledge of programming, too, you might also be able to code a new skill for Alexa. 

How to activate Alexa's tools and skills

Most of Alexa's existing tools and skills are not activated when users get their devices. Here are three ways to turn them on.

  • Enable skills: In the menu of each Alexa app is the option to see her "Skills & Games." When you've clicked the tab, you can scroll through "Discover" or "Categories" to see a list of possible skills, like TED Talks, enabling Alexa to play a recent TED talk, or History, enabling Alexa to quiz you about history. Simply click "enable to use" and say the given prompts to start taking advantage of Alexa's new skill. You can also do a search for any specific skill you need.
  • Link accounts: Some skills require Alexa to be manually connected to your existing external accounts, like an Apple music account. For these, the line "account linking required" will show up under the enable button, and the given account will ask for your login info and permission to connect. Once they've been connected, to try out Alexa's new skill, simply use the prompts listed.
  • Blueprints: Amazon also enables users to tailor a specific function to their needs. Under "Skills & Games" in the Alexa menu is "Blueprints." There, Amazon offers the option to tailor personal workouts and create a schedule for them, create greeting cards with your unique content, consolidate information and reminders for a babysitter, etc. Each of Alexa's various blueprints can offer clients an even more personalized Alexa experience.

Code a new skill to make more cash

If you've learned many of Alexa's skills and noticed a gap in her capabilities, you might come up with a great idea for a new addition that could meet user needs. Assuming you have some knowledge of programming, Amazon offers tutorials about how to code and develop new skills. 

These are tailored both for beginner and advanced coders. Once you've finished creating the skill, you'll submit it for a certification process before it can be published and widely distributed to Amazon customers. 

The devices are incredibly powerful. They can do so much more than what the default features offer.
Mark Cuban
Investor on 'Shark Tank'

If people find your skill useful, you could earn money. Every month, Amazon pays developers of some of the top performing, most engaged-with skills in eligible categories, notifying them by email that they'll be getting paid and how much. Among the topics often requested are music, news, and "how to" instructions, according to software development company Onix-Systems

Amazon doesn't publish payout sizes, but Onix reports that some developers get checks of $5,000 to $9,000 per month. After a gaming company agreed to buy the skills then-college senior David Markey had made in 2018 for Alexa, between the buyout and Amazon's paychecks, Markey collected an extra $10,000 each month.

Even if your skill isn't among the top performing, you've gained valuable experience in a growing field. Cuban believes there's big money to be made down the line in programming for artificial intelligence like that featured in Alexa and in devices like Microsoft's Cortana.

"I think there is a [small business] to be built doing just that," Cuban tells Grow. "Ambient computing is not going away. There will always be a need for people who can enhance productivity using ambient voice." 

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