Why the Secretive Startup Palantir Is ‘Seriously’ Considering an IPO

Key Speakers At The WSJDLive Global Technology Conference
Alexander "Alex" Karp, co-founder and chief executive officer of Palantir Technologies Inc., speaks during the WSJDLive Global Technology Conference in Laguna Beach, California, U.S., on Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2016. The conference brings together an unmatched group of top CEOs, founders, pioneers, investors and luminaries to explore tech opportunities emerging around the world. Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Photo credit: Bloomberg via Getty Images

Palantir Technologies CEO Alex Karp has long said he is opposed to taking his fast-growing data analytics company public. But as the company nears profitability, going public may be the best way to let employees share in the wealth, Karp says now.

After remarking he has always been “philosophically” opposed to going public, Karp explained that it is becoming increasingly difficult to let employees cash out their shares at a fair price.

“The people who create the value of production, the workers at Palantir, they need to know that they have liquidity at a fair price and this has raised a lot of questions,” Karp said at the Wall Street Journal‘s D Live conference on Wednesday.

Thus, somewhat reluctantly, Karp is preparing the company to go public—though a final decision has not been made.

“We’re now positioning the company so we could go public,” Karp explained. “I’m not saying we will go public, but it’s a possibility. Either we will go public, we will do an offering, we’ll do something on the private equity side, or we will use all of our profits or as many as we can in consultation with investors to redistribute them to employees.”

As he continued to ruminate on the subject, an IPO sounded even more likely. “Obviously, the simplest thing to do is to do some kind of public offering,” Karp said. “We are going to do the thing that is simplest and best for our employees.”

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Palantir, founded in 2000, helps governments and companies analyze large, disorganized data sets to find new insights. That could range from uncovering terrorist plots to helping sell more products.

The company was recently sued by the U.S. Department of Labor over allegations of discrimination against Asian job applicants. Karp forcefully denied that the company had discriminated, noting that 37% of his workforce is Asian.

“I have f-cked up so many things at Palantir,” Karp said. “The one thing I have never screwed up is discriminated against anybody based on any variable that they would care about, and I’m very proud of that.”

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