Palantir Technologies Inc.

Often, it seems like no one is really sure what Palantir Technologies does. Its co-founder, PayPal billionaire Peter Thiel, was instrumental in the current marketing push of ‘big data’, which Palantir has ridden very successfully to become a trusted partner to public organizations worldwide but has done little to help dispel the confusion. Palantir seems to pride itself on its opacity, with dramatic project and division names, and global connections.

Palantir was born out of an early struggle in PayPal’s development: fraud. At one point in 2003, credit card fraud was costing PayPal over $10 million per month, and the company had to act. By developing internal software which identified suspicious transactions and flagged them to human experts, PayPal was able to stamp down on this problem early, with significant savings for the company.

A small group including PayPal engineer Nathan Gettings and current CEO Alexander Karp developed PayPal’s antifraud technology further over the following years, marking the birth of Palantir as an independent company. Though the company struggled to find early investors and was largely bankrolled by Thiel, it saw major success in the late 2000s with Palantir software uncovering cyber-espionage operations in China. In 2010, Palantir was highly praised by senior figures in the US government for its fraud-reduction efforts. Since then, the company has taken on lucrative contracts with major organizations including the New York Police Department, the British health service, and the US military.

A lot of what the company does is send in consultants to advise on simple automation projects. The changes recommended are often simple but can have massive benefits for organizations dependent on legacy IT systems, antiquated processes, and other common trappings of large, aging, corporate structures. Palantir’s early focus was on public sector and state contracts, including major projects with the American military. One of the main questions for analysts is whether Palantir can service corporate clients as effectively as government and public sector bodies, especially in light of the increased transparency this requires.

The later 2010s saw Palantir making major acquisitions, including data visualization provider Silk for an undisclosed sum. The company has expanded its client list to include Credit Suisse, the Danish National Police, and Airbus. Despite this eclectic client base, estimates in 2020 indicate that just three clients account for a third of revenue.

Palantir shares began trading publicly on the New York Stock Exchange in 2020. In a direct listing, shares are offered for sale to the public directly without the use of underwriters and without the creation of new shares. The shares began trading at $10, indicating a valuation of $16.5 billion for Palantir. Peter Thiel remains the largest single shareholder, with around 7% of the company, followed by Vanguard and BlackRock.

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Palantir does not pay dividends to investors. Like many technology companies, Palantir reinvests its earnings back into the company for growth and expansion into new ventures.

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