The Valley's most secretive startup, Palantir, booked $1.7 billion in revenue in 2015 but may not be profitable

Peter ThielNeilson Barnard/Getty Images for New York TimesFounders Fund partner Peter Thiel.

As attention is poured on Valley VC powerhouse Peter Thiel, thanks to his surprising support of presidential candidate Donald Trump, details are emerging about one of his biggest and most secretive companies, Palantir, a big data startup said to be valued at $20 billion.

For instance, Palantir is believed to have booked $1.7 billion in revenue in 2015, reports Bloomberg. That’s up from $1 billion in revenue in 2014.

But there are questions on if — even with more than $1 billion in revenue — the company is profitable. Bloomberg reports that it isn’t.

And Thiel himself, the company’s cofounder who sits on the board, may not believe the company to be worth $20 billion, reports Buzzfeed’s William Alden.

Although Palantir has grown its revenues and hired more employees, some documents show it really collected $420 million in cash in 2015, less than a quarter of its bookings, meaning that Palantir’s customers aren’t spending as much money with the company as they could.

And those same documents shown to Buzzfeed say that Thiel’s investment firm actually valued the company at $12.7 billion at the time of its last round, not $20 billion.

The Trump angle

Palantir offers a big data product heavily used by governments, the police and spy agencies that allows them to sift through vast amounts of information to chase crime and find potential terrorists.

The company, backed by investors like the CIA as well as Thiel’s own VC firm Founders Fund, is tight-lipped about what its products do and how they do it. It was at one point implicated as a player in Edward Snowden’s revelations about government spying. It was also said to help the US find Osama bin Laden, and help police sift through massive amounts of video, using facial recognition, to find the Boston Marathon bombers.

Bloomberg reporters Max Chafkin and Lizette Chapman suggest that Thiel’s interest in Trump may really be about Palantir and his investments in other companies that sell to government or play in highly regulated industries. Thiel, a master chess player, may be playing a hedge game with Trump, who considers himself a master dealmaker. Thiel offers a public endorsement for the candidate and should the hedge play off and Trump gets elected, he gets access to a president, and more government business for Palantir and his other companies.

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