In a rare show of public support, Palantir Technologies Inc.’s co-founder and chairman Peter Thiel pitched the power of the data-mining company during a splashy Tokyo event marking its formal entry into Asia.
The billionaire entrepreneur was in Japan Monday to unveil a $150 million, 50-50 joint venture with local financial services firm Sompo Holdings Inc., Palantir Technologies Japan Co. The new company will target government and public sector customers, emphasizing health and cybersecurity initially. Like IBM Corp. and other providers, Palantir’s software pulls together a range of data provided by its customers, mining it for patterns and displaying connections in easy-to-read spiderweb-like graphics that might otherwise get overlooked.
“We can learn a lot from Japan, that some of the challenges that Japan has with its aging population are the ones all countries of the West are going to have in the years ahead,” Thiel said at a briefing in Tokyo. “We hoped this can be a two-way exchange.”
The push into Asia comes at a critical time for the 15-year-old company. Despite having long-term, billion-dollar contracts with BP Plc., Merck KGaA and others in more than a dozen countries worldwide, Palantir has never turned an annual profit. Under the leadership of Thiel and the management of Chief Executive Officer Alex Karp, Palantir has long emphasized engineering over sales and revenue, a focus that has shifted only this year.
The company has not set a date for an initial public offering and continues to explore raising additional funding from private investors. Palantir spokeswoman Lisa Gordon told Bloomberg there are no formal conversations underway and disputed reports that Palantir is considering a deal with Softbank Group Corp. or that the company is seeking as much as $3 billion in funding at a $30 billion valuation.
Valuation is a touchy subject for the Silicon Valley company. Although private investors valued Palantir in 2015 at more than $20 billion, aggressive markdowns by mutual funds and an uncertain IPO timeline have taken a toll. Palantir’s valuation has continued to tumble, with shares trading around $5 a share during the past month, according to data from secondary markets.
Palantir is very close to breaking even and will end 2019 either slightly in the black or slightly in the red, Thiel said at the briefing. The company will be “significantly in the black” next year, he added.
“The judgment call Palantir has made, as have many other companies in Silicon Valley post 2000, is it is often much better to build businesses in private,” Thiel said. “There is some day in the future when Palantir will go public, but we will try to stay private as long as possible.”
Palantir’s public image has taken a beating in recent years. It’s attracted scrutiny from privacy advocates and protesters disturbed by the way Palantir’s software has been used by state and local law enforcement in the U.S., as well as by federal agencies like the Department of Homeland Security while implementing the controversial family separation policy at the U.S. Mexican border.
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Donald Trump, left, with Peter Thiel in 2016.
Thiel himself has been a lightning rod for criticism, having helped the election of U.S. President Donald Trump in 2016, a divisive decision even within Palantir. That critique could intensify given he has pledged to support Trump’s 2020 re-election.
“I envision supporting President Trump over his likely Democratic nominees,” Thiel said in Tokyo, adding he will determine the exact nature of his support as elections approach.