IPO of Secretive Palantir Will Dazzle

Jon Markman

There is a huge IPO in the pipeline. Palantir Technologies, a super secretive Palo Alto, Calif.-based company, is getting ready for its big reveal. It’s going to come soon, and it’s going to be a winner.

Palantir makes software to help governments and enterprises find needles in haystacks, so to speak. Its engineers have developed ways to see otherwise invisible patterns in mountains of data.

The name might be unfamiliar. Alex Karp, its co-founder and chief executive officer, has made a point of clashing with common Silicon Valley platitudes. The firm is an unapologetic supporter of law enforcement and the intelligence community.

Palantir, in fact, was originally funded by the Central Intelligence Agency. After failing to make any headway with venture capital investors in 2003, the fledgling firm secured a $2 million investment from In-Q-Tel, a venture investment firm setup by the CIA. The only other seed money, $30 million, came from Peter Thiel, the co-founder of PayPal (PYPL).

Thiel thought Palantir could simplify counter-terrorism in the same way PayPal made exchanging money online easy in the early days of the internet.

Gotham, Palantir’s counter-terrorism software, lets intelligence analysts quickly find answers to complex questions without writing code or mastering statistical modelling. Imagine a Google search bar, but with mountains of government and independently collected data to work with, in addition to the internet. Shipping logs and manifests, credit card records, customer lists and hundreds of other data points are integrated, and matches are cataloged.

Analysts, typically in the field on their laptop, ask complex questions and get a real-time responses that helps them perform their job faster, better.

In 2010 then-vice president Joe Biden credited Palantir software for helping analysts at the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board uncover fraud. A year later, CIA analysts used the same platform to find, track and ultimately kill Osama bin Laden.

Today Palantir operates in 40 countries, and has two additional platforms. Metropolis is being used by hedge funds and other financial institutions to find and exploit market inefficiencies. And Foundry was designed for use by enterprises.

Foundry digests and analyzes vast amounts of industrial data to help workers innovate. In a 2018 YouTube video Karp explains that FiatChrysler ((FCAU) -Get Report) has 1,500 people using Palantir software to determine what materials should be used, for what applications.


These people are technically competent but not PhDs. The software lets them help design better, safer products that lead to better margins for the company. That means better profits.

The no-code angle also puts the company is the same category as Alteryx ((AYX) -Get Report), a current investor darling. Its software platform allows companies to get up and running quickly with digital data integration. Alteryx is growing fast. Its shares trade at 23.5x sales.

Palantir filed a confidential registration with the Securities and Exchange Commission for its IPO July 6. The offering is expected sometime during the next month.

Bloomberg reported the company had $739 million in sales during 2019, a gain of 25% year-over-year. Palantir managers expect revenues will hit $1 billion in 2020, with the vast majority of its contracts being longer-term, with almost no churn.

Those contracts have made the business a cash cow. At the end of 2019, the company had $1 billion in cash on the balance sheet.

The company has raised more than $3 billion in venture capital funding from a variety of investors that includes BlackRock ((BLK) -Get Report), Tiger Global and Morgan Stanley ((MS) -Get Report). In June, Reuters reported that Japanese insurance holding company Sompo Holdings is investing $500 million in Palantir.

What makes the company really interesting is that it’s doing something different. While other companies are doing data analytics, Palantir is doing data integration. The company is pulling in information from many structured and unstructured sources, then providing software tools solve problems, without the need to write code.

Without elaborating, Karp told an interviewer in 2018 that people will be very surprised to learn about margins at Palantir. He also went on to say that the company is facing no real competition because outside investors don’t understand how well the company is performing.

Eric Savitz of Barrons makes the case that investors should look at early exposure to the IPO with the shares of Sutter Rock Capital ((SSSS) -Get Report) which is a public company that has a broad range of investments in private technology firms, including Palantir. The shares have risen from $4 in March to $13.45 now, but may run further if Palantir is received with the ardor of recent offerings.

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