One of the most prominent startups in Silicon Valley, Palantir, has been in the news a lot the past few months.
Palantir was cofounded by one of the Valley's most powerful, and most colorful, VCs, Peter Thiel. With Thiel's backing, Palantir has raised nearly $2 billion in investment.
As of late last year, investors valued the company at $20 billion, making it the third-most-valuable Bay Area tech startup behind Uber and Airbnb.
But Thiel himself may have valued the company at far less, $12.7 billion, BuzzFeed recently reported. And despite a reported $1.7 billion in "bookings" in 2015 (revenue under contract), Palantir may not be profitable, Bloomberg reports.
And it seems that Palantir is now experiencing a higher rate of employee turnover than it has in years gone past, though its cofounder and adviser Joe Lonsdale argues that turnover is still less than 10%, on par with typical tech companies.
So here's a closer look at what its like to work at Palantir these days, based on employee reviews from Glassdoor, posts on Quora, and other sources.
- Palantir is less of a startup and more of an established company. It was launched in 2004 and had about 1,500 employees by 2015. Source: The New York Times
- It is known as one of the most secretive companies in the Valley, partly because of the work it does. It helps organizations sift through vast amounts of data. It is used by government and spy agencies to find terrorists, by law enforcement to find criminals, and by corporations for things like fraud detection and computer security.
- The CIA was an early investor and customer. The NSA and FBI are also customers. People who work in security, law enforcement, and with classified info do tend to value the ability to keep a secret, so security tech firms like Palantir tend to attract a certain secretive type of person.
- In a recruitment video, one employee described the culture as "geeky," another as "just a little awkward," and another as "embracing the weirdness." Source: YouTube/Palantir
- The flip side of all that geeky awkwardness is that employees also describe their culture as "smart," a "meritocracy," and filled with "challenging," meaningful work.
- For instance, employees say they are working to fight terrorism, slavery, money laundering, and chronic homelessness.
- To give you an idea of the type of geekiness: Employees say the company's mission is to "save The Shire," and they wear that on T-shirts, too. That's a "Lord of the Rings" reference. In "LoTR," the Hobbits go off to fight an evil lord called Sauron. They're from a small country town in a outlying province called the Shire.
- The name Palantir is also a "LoTR" reference. It refers to a magical "seeing stone" that lets you see what's happening in faraway lands.
- Palantir has a reputation for hiring a lot of younger programmers, often straight from school, and paying them typically high Valley wages, though not as high as companies like Facebook or Google. Source: Reddit, Glassdoor
- Palantir is known for paying programmer interns well, too, an average of $7,645 monthly. Source: Glassdoor
- Palantir offers plenty of Valley style perks like free breakfast, lunch and dinner, dry-cleaning/laundry and gym reimbursement.
- However, it doesn't do any 401K matching. Instead Palantir offers stock options (a little tougher to get for new employees now that the company has grown so big) and lets them sell up to 10% of their stock, up to a maximum of $425,000, each year on secondary markets. Some employees used this to buy houses. Source: The Wall Street Journal
- The biggest complaint employees have is the lack of work/life balance. "Most people I know work 60 hours a week. Standard not extreme," wrote one employee. Source: Glassdoor
- "For some reason they still expect employees to be in the office after dinner on Friday," wrote one programmer who said he turned down a job offer to work there. Source: Reddit
- Palantir prefers its employees live closer to the office and pays a housing stipend to help. Some people say the housing stipend doesn't stretch far enough in expensive Palo Alto, but works better for New York.
- Another common complaint was inexperienced management. Some people were frustrated by a lack of strategy, leadership, and people-management skills. Others like it. "You pretty quickly get responsibility thrown at you," writes one who does. Source: Glassdoor
- Palantir doesn't do a good job in managing its own reputation, other employees complain. "Palantir sucks at talking to the media. Hell, they take pride in it. This means that there's so much misinformation about the company," writes one person. For instance, Palantir was embroiled in a WikiLeaks scandal in 2011. Source: Reddit, Forbes
- Palantir employees say they work at a "meritocracy" where talent and achievement is awarded over office politics, so the structure is fairly decentralized. Some teams work on all kinds of fun and crazy stuff, others not so much. "I know people who will never leave the company and those that barely lasted two months." Source: Reddit
- Another common complaint is that, while the projects can be meaningful, the work itself can be dull. There's a lot of scripting and admin work. "There's a very good chance you're sacrificing interesting work for interesting outcomes," says one person. Source: Reddit
- All in all, employees are more satisfied than not with the company. It has a 4.1 star rating on Glassdoor, out of five stars. Plus, 86% approve of their CEO and 78% would recommend Palantir to a friend.