Vator Under Fire for Columnist Involvement

Update: Bambi Francisco has resigned from MarketWatch following criticism of her involvement in (see background in our coverage below). She explained she will now dedicate herself full-time to Vator in her goodbye column at MarketWatch, posted Friday afternoon. “The understanding had always been that if it got to a point at which I could not proceed without conflicts of interest, then I would leave MarketWatch to focus on,” she wrote.

Bambi Francisco, a tech columnist for MarketWatch, is catching flak for her involvement with, a site which enables startups to upload videos pitching their business ideas. CNET questioned the ethics of Francisco and her employer in a piece Thursday, and the Wall Street Journal (which, like MarketWatch, is owned by Dow Jones) followed up with a more detailed assessment of companies and people Francisco covered who have ties to Vator.

Francisco, for instance, wrote about PreFound and Friendster after they posted videos on Vator. She’s also covered Powerset, LinkedIn, and Facebook, all companies that primary Vator investor Peter Thiel had also funded.

I had interviewed Francisco about Vator a while back and got a somewhat different impression of the circumstances of the founding of Vator and Francisco’s arrangement with her employer than portrayed in these articles.

First off, it was my impression that Francisco founded Vator, not accepted a stake in it last September, as CNET’s Greg Sandoval wrote.

“It is something that I basically started last year as an experiment,” she told me, saying the site had only become open to the public on January 1 of this year. “I got the green light from my boss to see whether this was something that would be useful for me.”

Sandoval also wrote,

“Francisco is not allowed to write about any of the companies that make pitches through Vator, [MarketWatch Editor In Chief David] Callaway said, and she is not allowed to be Thiel’s ‘marketing department,’ a shorthand way of saying she’s supposed to steer clear of writing in favor of Thiel’s interests.”

And according to a letter provided to the WSJ,

“Mr. Callaway said he approved the investment on the condition that Ms. Francisco ‘not write about that company, its investors, or the companies using'”

Francisco’s explanation to NewTeeVee was a bit more nuanced. “I don’t really want to get too involved in where I am with MarketWatch and this, but it’s very much something that is out in the open with MarketWatch,” she said in an interview, a while ago. “The deal with MarketWatch is I can only write about these companies on my blog or column when they’re big enough.” Thus, Vator’s purpose is “If I can’t write about you then maybe you can tell other people about yourself.”

As for monetary investment in the company, I wasn’t clear on how much Francisco had personally provided. She did say explicitly “Peter Thiel is very involved as an investor.” Throughout the interview she referred to Vator as a small, inexpensive project. We are reaching out to Francisco for comment and will add any replies to the story Friday.

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