While few sectors of the economy were prepared to transition to completely online operations as coronavirus-related restrictions closed physical businesses, in-person service providers were particularly hard hit — even if they had digital payment solutions in place, they couldn’t book jobs or meet with clients. Today, a new app called Specialist is addressing all three of those needs in one place, enabling everyone from repair technicians to yoga instructors to easily create appointments, deliver services over video chat, and get paid without using multiple pieces of software.

Specialist was built by Punch List, a San Francisco startup with an eponymous app for home remodeling contractors, in hopes of aiding a wider group of independent service providers. While the Punch List app simplified the process of spelling out, invoicing, and getting paid for stages of a remodel, Specialist goes a step further by letting professionals actually deliver their services over secure Vonage video conferencing directly within the Android or iOS application. Each provider creates a business card-sized profile, sets by-minute or by-session rates, and gets paid through Stripe.

The individual pieces aren’t new, but a turnkey app will have obvious appeal to both small business owners and their customers. Rather than fishing for separate apps, then needing to guide customers to special booking sites, video links, and payment pages, everything’s handled seamlessly in one place. Professionals can use the time they save to market their services — when they’re not in the middle of delivering them.

“We’re fulfilling an urgent need by combining video chat and secure digital payment within one app,” Punch List CEO Kyle Zink said, “to allow Americans to unlock the earning potential of their expertise from home.” The Punch List team says it brought Specialist from concept to launch in three weeks, and has committed to not profiting from the app during the pandemic, instead letting users maximize their revenue during their time of greatest challenge.

Punch List expects that professionals including creatives, tradespeople, and educators such as personal trainers and yoga instructors will use Specialist to provide services ranging from critical (emergency repairs) to optional (classes or haircut guidance) or just fun (mixology). Initial booking will take place over text, and during each session, both sides will see either the billing rate for the session or the per-minute timer, along with full screen video.

The app’s payment system will be contractor-friendly, but provide some options in case there’s a problem with the services. Secure payments will post within two days to the provider’s Stripe account, and if a dispute arises that can’t be resolved between the customer and professional, Specialist will offer access to “a dedicated support team” via email. That said, Punch List doesn’t “anticipate many disputes,” as the app’s initial focus will be on connecting professionals to their prior loyal customer bases, rather than building relationships with new customers — something that may happen in a future Specialist directory or marketplace.

Specialist is available today from the Google Play store for Android and App Store for iOS. The app is free for end users, while service providers will pay 30 cents plus 2.9% per call to Stripe, plus 2 cents per minute of Vonage calling; Punch List will not charge its own fees for Specialist until the pandemic has subsided.


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