Until this week, Palantir Technologies, a Palo Alto-based data analytics company, wasn’t much of an acquirer. Despite having raised $896 million in venture capital, at a $9 billion valuation, and generating more than $500 million in revenue, Palantir has only made one acquisition in all of its ten years: VoiceGem, a young, Y-Combinator-backed messaging app, in 2013.
That's starting to change. Tuesday the company acquired Poptip, a New York-based startup that processes data from social media. The company is small — it has just nine employees and $2.4 million in venture funding — and the deal was surprising. Poptip’s polling product has a big consumer bent, and Palantir’s offerings are clearly business-to-business.
Today another deal was announced: Palantir has acquired Propeller, a San Francisco-based mobile startup which allows users to create their own apps. One-year-old Propeller has raised $1.25 million in funding from a long list of big-name Valley investors, including Andreessen Horowirz, ffAngel, Menlo Ventures, Foundation Capital, Subtraction Capital, Great Oaks Venture Capital, Max Levchin, Ashton Kutcher, Keith Rabois, Scott Banister, Jason Portnoy, Lee Linden, Rothenberg Ventures and Alfred Mandel. Propeller announced the sale on its website.
“Having tackled many technical challenges facing mobile app creation, we're eager to solve important problems at Palantir on a global scale,” the site said.
This deal likely arose from the Peter Thiel connection. The PayPal co-founder and early Facebook investor also co-founded Palantir. His fund, ffAngel, the seed investing arm of Founders Fund, also backed Propeller. Further, in 2012, Propeller co-founder Clay Allsopp participated in Thiel's fellowship program, which gives college students $100,000 grants to drop out and build startups. Earlier this month, TechCrunch noted that half of the Theil fellows planned to return to college after the program.
The two deals raise the question as to whether Palantir is embarking on an acquisition spree of consumer-facing apps. I’ve reached out to the company for more color, (update: the company declined to comment further) but until then, have some rampant speculation: The simple explanation seems to be Palantir has decided, ten years in, that it’s easier to buy talented data teams than to recruit them. The complex explanation, oversimplified: Palantir needs to enter new markets leading up to its IPO, as the slow sales cycle of its current markets — government, military and finance — isn’t appealing to Wall Street. Palantir is known for its secrecy (it even counts the CIA among its investors), but in recent months the company has tamped down IPO speculation, telling CNBC it has no plans to go public.