There is a lot of buzz on Wall Street about the upcoming IPO of Palantir, the controversial big data company. Palantir, in case you don’t know, creates software to analyze, manage and secure data. The CIA is a client of Palantir. In its last funding round in 2015, the company was valued at $ 20 billion. Since then, the valuation of the company has dropped sharply. However, it is believed that Palantir will not only be the largest technology IPO of the year, but the largest IPO period. In a year when nothing is normal, seeing a technological unicorn preparing to go into public feels strangely reassuring. At the head of the IPO (and the company) is Alex Karp.
Karp joined Palantir as CEO in 2004. He is an eccentric leader – even among a host of CEOs of eccentric startups in Silicon Valley. He was born in Philadelphia in 1967. His parents were an artist and a pediatrician. His parents were also hippies and took him to anti-Reagan protests and workers’ rights protests when he was a child. He graduated from Central High School in Philadelphia, the second oldest public high school in the United States. From there he went to nearby Haverford College for his bachelor’s degree. He went to Stanford law school. One of his classmates was Peter Thiel. After obtaining his law degree, Karp traveled to Frankfurt, Germany to study philosophy at the University of Goethe. While he was preparing his doctorate, he received an inheritance from his grandfather. He became interested in investing and founded a London-based investment company called Caedmon Group.
He returned to the United States after completing his doctorate. He met his classmate at Stanford, Peter Thiel, who had previously founded and sold PayPal. Karp shared his dissatisfaction with the way the US government handled the September 11 attacks with Thiel. Peter Thiel proposed a software idea for discovering terrorist networks. The two founded Palantir in 2004 with an investment of $ 30 million from Thiel as well as investments from two other donors. The name Palantir comes from an element of the world “The Lord of the Rings”.
Basically, Palantir applies technology to big data. The company quickly established itself as an entrepreneur for a number of branches of the US government, military agencies, and law enforcement. A number of Palantir employees have government security clearances and receive five-digit bonuses living near the office. Palantir was under fire recently for drawing hundreds of millions of dollars from a contract with ICE. The protests focus on the role of the company in helping the administration of the current president expel people from the United States on the basis of racial profiling. In 2004 Karp joined Palantir as co-founder and CEO.
Karp hired software engineers and scientists to work on his project. Eventually, he and Thiel contacted In-Q-Tel, the non-profit venture capital arm of the Central Intelligence Agency. It didn’t take Palantir long to conclude lucrative contracts with the CIA, ICE, the Pentagon, West Point and a number of other government agencies. Karp has been threatened with death in recent years and travels with personal bodyguards 24/7.
In Palantir’s offices, Karp is known for his brightly colored sportswear. He is known for embarking on martial arts movements – sometimes targeting his co-founders – in the office corridors. Oh, and he can solve a Rubik cube in less than 3 minutes. He’s a fitness fanatic. He is passionate about meditation. And, despite a net worth north of $ 1 billion, he doesn’t spend like the founder of typical technology. He has a house in Palo Alto, near the Palantir offices. He was never married. He does not want children. All his life is focused on his business.