A secretive software-maker says hello to the stockmarket—and waves goodbye to Silicon Valley

复杂的爱国者 A prickly patriot-书迷号 shumihao.com

Palantir’s longer-term prospects are murkier. Successful corporate-software firms develop programs and services that can be offered without much customisation to many clients. This is trickier in the data business, where every company has a unique digital footprint. When Palantir got going, it was in effect a professional-services firm, chiefly creating bespoke data-analysis systems for the likes of the CIA and the Department of Defence. In recent years it has developed more generic products for corporate clients. But its scepticism of standardisation means it continues to deploy plenty of engineers to tweak them. This increases costs and is likely to limit how big and profitable it can get, says Mark Moerdler of Bernstein, a brokerage.
Palantir的长期前景更看不清楚。成功的企业软件公司开发的程序和服务无需太多定制就能提供给众多客户。但这在数据这一块更加棘手,因为每家公司都有自己独特的数字足迹。Palantir成立之初实则是一家专业服务公司,主要为美国中情局和国防部等机构定制数据分析系统。近年它为企业客户开发了更多通用产品。但它对标准化持怀疑态度,这就意味着要继续安排大量工程师来微调产品。经纪公司盛博的马克·默尔德勒(Mark Moerdler)认为,这增加了成本,很可能会限制其规模和盈利能力。

Palantir’s origins bring other challenges, too. Because it came of age before the rise of computing clouds, its software often still inhabits customers’ data centres, making it less nimble than younger cloud-based rivals like C3.ai and Databricks. Working for the government, particularly its spookier agencies, has also created a secretive and proprietary culture that is not an easy fit with the sort of partnerships that other tech firms often successfully use to expand their business. And it remains heavily reliant on government contracts. Between January and June 55% of revenue came from official sources, up from 45% in the same period last year. It has only 125 clients, with the biggest three (unnamed) ones accounting for nearly a third of sales.

Closeness to the state also points to Palantir’s biggest risk: politics. From its post-9/11 beginnings it has seen itself as an instrument of national security. “If we are going to ask someone to put themselves in harm’s way, we believe that we have a duty to give them what they need to do their job,” Mr Karp writes in his missive. One of his co-founders is Peter Thiel, a famed venture capitalist of strong libertarian bent with an authoritarian streak—and an occasional supporter of President Donald Trump.

This—combined with work for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a federal agency despised by progressives for its heavy-handed treatment of migrants, or the Pentagon’s Project Maven, to analyse drone footage—has made Palantir one of the most hated firms in left-leaning Silicon Valley. “I’ve had my favourite employees yell at me,” said Mr Karp earlier this year, from a barn in New Hampshire where he was self-isolating even before the pandemic. Some engineers have left. Others are demanding high salaries to remain; in the first half of the year Palantir paid $182m in stock-based compensation, 38% of revenue. Though being in bed with America’s law enforcers and spies won’t scare off other government customers, corporate clients may take fright, particularly abroad. As the prospectus concedes, “Our reputation and business may be harmed by news or social media coverage.”
除此之外,它为移民和海关执法局(ICE,一个因为严苛对待移民而被进步人士鄙视的联邦机构)服务,而且还为五角大楼的Maven项目(Project Maven)分析无人机视频,都让它在左倾的硅谷成了最招人恨的公司之一。“有些我最喜欢的员工对着我大喊大叫。”卡普在今年早些时候提到。当时他在新罕布什尔州的一个谷仓里办公,疫情爆发之前他就已经在那里自我隔绝了。有些工程师已经辞职走人。剩下的要求拿高薪才肯留下:今年上半年Palantir支付了1.82亿美元的员工股权激励,占公司收入的38%。尽管与美国的执法者和间谍同床共枕不会吓跑其他政府客户,却可能会吓到企业客户,尤其是国外企业。正如招股说明书里承认的,“新闻或社交媒体报道可能会损害我们的声誉和业务”。

Palantir, which has recently decamped from Silicon Valley to Denver, is trying to make a virtue of the culture clash. It paints itself as a patriotic problem-solver, eschewing the techno-Utopian pretensions of the West Coast’s engineering elite. They may know more than most about software, Mr Karp writes. “But they do not know more about how society should be organised or what justice requires.” ■