Palantir, the mysterious decacorn founded by Alex Karp and Peter Thiel that works with government agencies like ICE and the Department of Defense, is lifting a veil. The company, which has never posted a profit despite its over $10 billion valuation, is involved in data mining and analytics, though the general public knows little about the work it actually does as part of its many government contracts.
For years Palantir has had investors, writers and analysts at the edge of their seats with teases of potential IPO filings, and 2020 is finally their year. The company filed for a confidential IPO earlier this summer, and their S-1 could be made public as early as this week. Those eager for the chance to look under the hood at one of the largest and most shady startups in all of Silicon Valley are finally getting what they’ve been waiting for.
To say Palantir has never posted profits is a bit of an understatement; the company lost $580 million in 2019, according to documents the company sent to investors last week. After the failure of several major IPOs and the souring of investors towards profitless, inflated startups like WeWork last fall, it was thought that the old ways of doing business and investing in loss leaders would be left in the past. The buzz around Palantir will be seen as a test for whether or not the model of a startup bleeding cash while racking up ever-higher valuations is alive or dead in the water. So how is the company performing ahead of its IPO?
When we covered Palantir in April, we found that their job listings had dropped 71% since January. While many companies slowed or completely stopped hiring on the onset of COVID-19, we have also previously observed that a slowdown in job postings is often a signal of an upcoming IPO. While that turned out to be the case for Palantir, the decrease in listings persisted for much longer than expected - listings dropped as low as 73% in June - and has only recently begun to recover. In the last 30 days, Palantir has opened 20 new positions.
Palantir’s Linkedin headcount has also marginally increased for a company their size. Only 30 employees have been added since January as the company held steady in preparation for filing.
Steady job numbers alone won’t do much to save Palantir from its massive losses last year, which will surely do some work to sour the crowd that was excited for the chance to invest in the company once it went public. These first looks under the hood aren’t pleasant, and to many investors the exterior isn’t as pretty either.
Thiel, Karp, and Palantir’s other founders are controversial figures to say the least, and that combined with the increased scrutiny and coverage surrounding their long-awaited IPO plus the early signs that they may not be as attractive as initially thought might cause Palantir to be yet another long-awaited IPO that lands with a wet thud.