Peter Thiel's spook software outfit Palantir has surged 37 per cent on its first day of trading on the NYSE, taking its market cap to US$22 billion.
An SEC filing also revealed that funds controlled by Thiel owned 17.7 per cent of Palantir - substantially above previous guesstimates of 10 per cent - valuing the Kiwi citizen's stake at just under US$4 billion.
Thiel is reported to have made around US$2.3 billion from his early investments in Facebook and PayPal.
That means that, in rough terms, his wealth could now be around US$6.3b ($8.95b).
That makes Thiel easily the second-richest Kiwi, with more than twice the wealth of the Todd ($4b), Chandler ($3b) or Mowbray ($3b) families, though still behind Graeme Hart, who has an estimated wealth of US$10b.
When Palantir IPO talk last surfaced, for a mooted listing in the second half of 2019, the Wall Street Journal reported, "After Palantir shared some of its internal metrics with Morgan Stanley bankers, the bank returned with a range of US$36b to US$41b for a 2020 public offering."
But pre-listing filings revealed the company was smaller and further from profitability than some thought.
For 2019, it posted a loss of US$579.6 million, roughly even with 2018, on revenue that increased 25 per cent to $742m.
Palantir (which has raised more than US$3b in various private equity rounds) ultimately plumped for a direct listing rather than raising any money as it went public.
The company listed with a "reference price" of US$7.25, but opened at US$10.00 and was recently trading at US$9.98.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the outsize voting rights for insiders setup at Facebook (where Thiel remains a director), Palantir and Karp will still be able to maintain majority control even if their stake falls as low as 6 per cent. (Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has used his super voting rights to repeatedly brush aside reform bids by the NZ Super Fund and other investors in the social network).
Afghanistan to NZ
Co-founded by Thiel and Alex Karp in 2004, Palantir makes software that helps security and law enforcement clients like the NSA, CIA and FBI mine mountains of "big data" from electronic surveillance.
It was named after a mystical, all-powerful seeing stone used by the evil wizard Saruman in JRR Tolkien's Lord of the Rings (of which Thiel is said to be a major fan).
Its software is credited with helping US authorities hunt down and kill Osama bin Laden.
Our GCSB and SIS won't confirm or deny if they are Palantir customers but the company has an office in Wellington and the GCSB has advertised for staff proficient in Palantir's software. Born-and-bred Kiwi Jonty Kelt is one of Palantir's most senior executives. And a Herald investigation uncovered that the NZ Defence Force has spent more than $7.2m with Palantir since 2012.
And on its website currently, as part of a recruitment campaign for software engineers, Palantir says, "We meet problems where they live. Wherever our users are — whether it's Afghanistan or Atlanta, New York or New Zealand — we are there too".
Thiel hit local headlines in 2017 when it was revealed he had been made a New Zealand citizen since 2011 - despite spending just 11 days in the country.
The German-born, Californian-resident entrepreneur's Kiwi passport was fast-tracked as he invested millions in local startups including Xero and Vend.
Thiel subsequently lost enthusiasm for local tech investments but did become a prolific buyer of property around Queenstown and Wanaka, as featured in the Vice documentary, Hunt for the Bunker People.
His interest in NZ did perk up recently with an investment in a photo management startup. Perhaps, flush, from the successful Palantir listing, other local investments could follow.
The art of the Thiel
Thiel donated millions to the Trump campaign in 2016, and spoke at the Republican National Convention in the run-up to the election.
However, a recent Wall Street Journal report said Thiel has become disillusioned with Trump over his coronavirus response.
The paper noted the billionaire was not down to speak at this year's Republican convention, and he has not donated any money to the Trump 2020 campaign, according to Federal Election Commission records.