The crookedest little bloghouse in Silicon Valley just hit a new low, it appears: A negative story about Birchbox, a beauty-product site with which Pando shares investors, was deleted shortly after being published. Unfortunately for Pando and the backers it loves so dearly, this is the internet, and nothing ever disappears.
The post—"Is Birchbox starting to hit some scaling woes?"—went up around 9 p.m. ET, and was quickly pulled down without notice. But various spammy aggregation websites republished the post (still available here), as is the case for pretty much any blog post out there, preserving a report that Birchbox is struggling to expand. The story recounted the woes of several anonymous Birchbox customers, who Pando says are flocking to competitors:
Birchbox has stayed largely mum with the press in recent months. Various Birchbox customers have told me anecdotes about their boxes that suggest the company is facing scaling challenges.
Birchbox is probably taking on more customers as fast as it may be losing some. But it's not ideal for a subscription e-commerce company when users start jumping ship for the competitor.
At any other website this kind of criticism is about as scalding as a half-empty Ensure shake, but Pando is different—it's lost almost all of its original staff, its business office has all but emptied out, and advertisers have been missing since the end of last year. What the site has left is its chummy relationship with investors, a cadre of elite Silicon Valley business players who still believe in editor-in-chief Sarah Lacy. Two of these investors—Accel and Lerer Ventures—have enjoyed glowing Pando coverage for Birchbox, which they both hold a stake in. Accel is also, coincidentally, sponsoring a Pando event in New York today. Last Christmas, Birchbox was highlighted in a Pando holiday gift guide—sans disclosure, of course. Another piece from 2012 touted Birchbox as a "beautiful" service.
I asked Lacy why she deleted the post without notice—an uncommon practice for any editorial site—rather than updating or otherwise amending it. "We didn't think the story was ready and wanted to do some more work on it," she told me, denying mutual investors had anything to do with the deletion. Lacy also declined to name the reporter behind the pulled post, noting only that "this was a failing of our editorial process." Will the post ever go back up, pending... whatever? "I hope so." For now, you have a conspicuous article-shaped hole on Pando that looks and smells a lot like a favor. That seems to be trendy these days.
Birchbox, Lerer Ventures, and Accel have yet to reply to my request for comment.
Update: a Lerer Ventures rep denies speaking with Pando.