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Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Meet Chicago-based Frank, a startup with $2 million in VC funding that’s been in beta for the past year, and provides a communication space for employees (no managers allowed) to chat.

Why it matters: It's capitalism building tools to push back on ... capitalism.

Details: Frank's app lets coworkers create chatrooms to discuss issues and campaigns around a particular demand they want to make of their company, and they can even use it to organize a unionization effort.

  • It includes ways for coworkers to approve others they trust, and keeps records of polling, approvals, and more.
  • Founder Logan LaHive started getting involved in and researching labor issues and organizing following the 2016 election and leaving his prior startup, Belly.

The big picture: The growing movement from workers to gain more power and say in the workplace has been boosted by the pandemic — with employees demanding more flexibility, higher wages, and even quitting jobs that aren’t meeting their needs.

Between the lines: "For a company to manage their workforce, there are tons of tools but there are barely any that are for workers to manage their workplace," says LaHive.

Similarly, a startup named Unit is building software to make it easier for employees to unionize with turnkey tools (and also raised VC funding).

  • To be sure, there is some skepticism that tools like this are even needed as the hard part of unionizing has to do with people.

The big question: Whether companies like Frank can both build a sustainable for-profit business and navigate the capitalistic forces around it.

  • It currently has no revenue, though it plans to eventually introduce ways for users to pay for the service, likely through some form of tipping or other flexible pricing.
  • The company opted for B-Corp certification as a way to show commitment to its social goals, but it's a for-profit company nevertheless. LaHive tells me he doesn’t believe that being a non-profit should be the only structure for organizations working on such issues.
  • During the company's fundraising (via SAFE, which keeps its investors at arms distance, for now), LaHive says he was yelled out of a few rooms. "Some of the questions like, 'why should workers have more power?'" he adds. "They couldn't get over that they're venture capitalists and have some companies that are actively trying to avoid unionization."

Still, Frank raised from Hyde Park Venture Partners, Starting Line, Hyde Park Angels, and Shomik Dutta from Higher Ground Labs, suggesting at least those VCs don’t see this as a contradiction.

  • "I view the real American worker as our constituent," Starting Line's Ezra Galston told me via email. "The better they are compensated and the more aligned their work lives are with their needs, the better I believe our portfolio will perform holistically. If Frank is successful, I believe it is accretive to our portfolio, not detrimental."

The bottom line: The future of work could include some new workplace power structures.

Go deeper

Jun 14, 2021 - Economy & Business

"Great resignation" wave coming for companies

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Companies that made it through the pandemic in one piece now have a major new problem: more than a quarter of their employees may leave.

What's happening: Workers have had more than a year to reconsider work-life balance or career paths, and as the world opens back up, many of them will give their two weeks' notice and make those changes they’ve been dreaming about.

Manhattan, Westchester prosecutors request evidence from Cuomo investigation

Gov. Cuomo during a press conference in New York City on Aug. 2. Photo: Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

The district attorneys for Manhattan and Westchester County on Wednesday requested evidence related to New York Attorney General Letitia James' investigation into sexual harassment allegations against Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), according to a letter obtained by NBC News.

Why it matters: The district attorneys are investigating if alleged conduct highlighted in an independent report published by James' office that occurred in their jurisdictions was criminal in nature.

Scoop: Buzzy media startup Puck launches in beta

Puck.news

Puck, a splashy new digital media company, is coming out of stealth mode, Axios has learned. The company debuted its landing page, puck.news, on Wednesday, and will officially launch its website in September.

Why it matters: The company has been quietly building a roster of top talent, but hadn't confirmed its branding or exact business plans up until now.