October 1, 2020 | technology | No Comments
(Bloomberg) — Palantir Technologies Inc. fell 5% from its opening trades in its debut as a public company, ending a 17-year tradition of secrecy surrounding the software business co-founded by Peter Thiel.
The data analytics company’s share price fell to $9.50 after opening Wednesday at $10 on the New York Stock Exchange. Palantir listed its shares directly on the exchange, rather than raising capital through an initial public offering. As in the three other major direct listings that have taken place, the exchange had set a reference price — $7.25 for Palantir — to help guide investors and to allow shares to begin trading.
Palantir ended the day with a market capitalization of about $15.7 billion based on its listed shares, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. On a fully diluted basis based on all the shares covered in its filings, the company has a value of almost $21 billion, in line with the $20 billion valuation private investors awarded it in 2015.
Going public was the right decision for Palantir, Chief Executive Officer and co-founder Alex Karp said in an interview, without commenting directly on the first day’s trading.
“We didn’t need to change our culture,” he said, referring among other things to Palantir’s tight group of insiders and their support for the programs run by U.S. government agencies. “I feel really good.”
Karp, Thiel and a tight-knit group of leaders will retain tight control of the company through a three-tiered share structure and voting rights. That’s needed to assure customers — some of them controversial — that they can trust the company, Karp said.
“It gives our clients enormous comfort that we will stand by them when times are good and when times are bad,” Karp said. “We support some of the most clandestine operations in the world.”
Companies are racing to go public in the U.S., where investors are welcoming new stocks ahead of a presidential election likely to drive volatility. Companies raised $61 billion from initial public offerings this quarter, the busiest on record, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Software businesses were at the forefront of the listing boom. Snowflake Inc., the largest of them, raised $3.9 billion including so-called greenshoe shares in its IPO this month.
Asana Inc., a software company backed by Thiel’s venture capital firm Founders Fund, also went public Wednesday through a direct listing, an unconventional mechanism for taking a company public. Asana’s shares gained 6.7% from their opening price, giving the company a value of about $5.5 billion on a fully diluted basis.
For More: Asana Valued at $5.5 Billion After Direct Listing Debut
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Palantir traveled a long and sometimes rough road to its public debut. Thiel helped start the company in 2003 with early funding from an arm of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, but Palantir’s darling status among U.S. government agencies didn’t translate into success with businesses for well over a decade.
Named for the all-seeing stones in the fictional “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, Palantir combines myriad, ever-changing data streams into one centralized “source of truth.” Customers, including the U.S. Defense Department and pharmaceutical giant Merck KGaA, then mine that information and analyze it to make decisions. The results are presented as a series of spiderweb-like visuals, making information accessible to non-technical users.
For years, Palantir operated much like a consultancy, dispatching its engineers to customer sites to implement the software and build one-off applications. The model was expensive, and Palantir incurred heavy losses for most of its history. The business remains unprofitable.
When Palantir built a new software platform, Foundry, in 2016, the company cut costs by automating much of the grunt work and said it reduced time to set up customers from months to days. Palantir expects to deliver an adjusted profit this year on more than $1 billion in revenue.
Competition for global customers will be fierce. Palantir only began building a sales team in 2019. The company currently has about 125 customers, with the U.S. Army being the largest representing 15% of revenue.
Palantir’s chairman, Thiel, and its work for government agencies including U.S. immigration have sparked concerns among corporate watchdogs and human rights groups including Amnesty International. The company has also drawn rebukes from governance experts who point out that Thiel will have power with little accountability because of multi-class stock that grants him outsize power in perpetuity.
Palantir followed other tech companies in its decision to bypass a traditional IPO. Spotify Technology SA went public through a direct listing in 2018 and Slack Technologies Inc. followed last year.
In a direct listing, employees and other shareholders can sell stock without the company issuing new shares to raise capital. Slack and Spotify each soared on their first day of trading, reaching valuations of $19.5 billion and $27.8 billion, respectively.
(Updates with CEO’s comments in fourth paragraph.)
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