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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

Aug 20, 2021 - Axios Twin Cities

Twin Cities employers navigate return to office amid Delta's spread

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Companies that push too hard to bring employees back to the office are at risk of losing workers. But so are companies that move to an all-remote model.

Driving the news: Some of the Twin Cities’ biggest employers — Target, U.S. Bank and Wells Fargo — have delayed their September return-to-office plans due to concerns about the Delta variant.

  • Meanwhile, others are still plotting to bring workers back Sept. 7.

The intrigue: How employers handle their return to office is a big factor in how they fare in the so-called “great resignation” that could result in 25% to 40% of employees nationwide quitting their jobs, according to surveys.

  • "I keep hearing from employers that they're sticking to their plan of coming back to the office. And my response to them is, 'Do you realize you're going lose about 10% to 15% of your people?' I don't know what the actual number is, but a certain segment of their employee base doesn’t want that," said Paul DeBettignies, a Twin Cities-based IT recruiter.

State of play: 51% of Minnesota companies are planning to hire for new jobs and another 48% are planning to fill vacant positions, according to a survey by human resources consulting firm Robert Half. In other words, almost every company is looking for workers.

  • "It's a situation where the employees — the talent — are holding a lot of cards that they haven't in prior years," said Kyle O’Keefe, Robert Half's senior regional director for Minnesota.

Between the lines: The 20-something workers are more likely to want to return to the office so they can be seen and advance their careers, DeBettignies said. The mid-career, established professionals are less interested in in-person work.

  • "I hear companies saying, particularly in the tech space, that we're going remote-only. They've got space but employees either don’t need to come in or they come in twice a month," he said. "I try to remind those folks they're probably going to lose 5% to 10% of their people. Because not everybody wants to work for a remote-only company."

The bottom line: Robert Half surveyed employees nationally in April and found that 34% currently working from home due to the pandemic would look for a new job if they were required to be in the office five days a week.

  • "The organizations that remain nimble and flexible will be able to retain, attract and engage their workforce," O'Keefe said. "I would hesitate on bringing some sort of one-size-fits-all approach."
Felix Salmon, author of Capital
6 mins ago - Technology

Facebook's scandals have been great for shareholders

Expand chart
Data: YCharts; Chart: Axios

Facebook has been embroiled in scandal for the past five years, and while the specific allegations change over time, a central theme is constant. Given the choice between commercial and moral imperatives, Facebook always seems to choose the option that is best for the share price.

Why it matters: Facebook's stock chart supports that narrative. Since the 2016 scandals alleging that the social network was infiltrated by foreign actors trying to influence the outcome of democratic elections, Facebook's revenues — and its stock — have been soaring.

Biden to tap telecom trio for NTIA, FCC posts

Jessica Rosenworcel. Photo: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

President Joe Biden on Tuesday is expected to name Alan Davidson as head of the telecom arm of the Commerce Department, Jessica Rosenworcel as chairwoman of the Federal Communications Commission and Gigi Sohn as a commissioner at the FCC, according to a person familiar with the process.

Why it matters: Internet availability and affordability has been a key policy priority for the White House, but the administration lagged in tapping people for the agency posts that oversee the issues.