Business

Why Palantir nearly doubled its new funding round with $107M raise

Above: Ari Gesher, a senior software engineer at Palantir, speaking at VentureBeat's 2013 DataBeat/Data Science Summit event in Redwood City, Calif., on Dec. 5.

Image Credit: Michael O'Donnell/VentureBeat
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When Palantir engineer Ari Gesher spoke at VentureBeat’s DataBeat/Data Science Summit event last week, he talked about how the company has donated software and talent to mine and speedily make sense of many kinds of data for social good. He cited the company’s collaboration with a team of veterans to prioritize cases among people who needed help after Hurricane Sandy hit New York.

That’s on top of the company’s better known work for government agencies. The company also analyzes networks of improvised explosive devices for the U.S. Army and helps track down malicious hackers, drug cartel members, and perhaps even Osama bin Laden.

Besides the government contracts and the Hurricane Sandy volunteer work, the company has also been quite busy engaging with private companies lately. And that kind of activity interests investors. Small wonder the company is raising an even larger round than it seemed last week — $107.5 million, up from $57.5 million just the other day.

A Palantir spokeswoman confirmed the funding, which TechCrunch reported earlier today.

Besides adding money to its coffers, the company seems to be diversifying its customer base. Money from government contracts now comprises less than 40 percent of Palantir’s total incoming revenue, TechCrunch reports, citing an unnamed source.

If that’s true, it’s a positive development for Palantir. Diversification generally is a good move, because if a certain type of customer falls away, other revenue streams exist. In this case, when government agencies need to cut spending, Palantir will still have a market.

It can continue down this path and transition into a vendor that works almost entirely with private companies instead of government agencies. The trouble is, while Palantir can boast of a track record in the public sector — contracts on the site usaspending.gov go back to 2008 — its experience working with private companies might be less extensive.

The company sells tools for aggregating, analyzing, and visualizing structured and unstructured data from many disparate sources. It also has specific solutions for preventing cyberattacks, stopping fraud, and auditing data use. But so do other vendors that sell to private companies. Investors are spending more money on big data startups now, which can have the effect of making those startups more anxious to sign up big companies as customers. That’s not the optimal business environment for Palantir to be facing in its quest to diversify.

Yet that’s precisely what Palantir must do, according to big data analyst Jeffrey Kelly from the Wikibon Project.

“In order to justify a $9 billion valuation, it needs to expand to other verticals, namely financial services, and establish some marquee clients,” he wrote in an email to VentureBeat.

That could be a difficult task. Kelly notes that Palantir’s technology typically requires a lot of people in order to get it running, which could leave companies with larger invoices than, say, self-service software.

On top of that, Kelly has heard that Palantir’s systems have proven hard to scale.

“There’s no question Palantir’s software and engineers are excellent at complex analytical problems, but as data volumes continue to grow some question whether Palantir’s technology can stand up to the increasing strain of more and more data,” he wrote.

Should Palantir want to diversify further, these issues could be roadblocks. So new funding could help build new models of software and also raise awareness of Palantir inside more enterprise IT departments.

We asked the Palantir spokeswoman what the company would like to do with all of its new cash, but she declined to provide answers.

More about the companies and people from this article:

(from Web Site) Palantir Technologies is working to radically change how groups analyze information. Palantir was founded in 2004 by a handful of PayPal alumni and Stanford computer scientists. The company has doubled in size every... read more »

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