Secretive enterprise software company Palantir is one of the most valuable start-ups in the world. Indeed, at $20 billion, it's worth more than many members of the S&P 500. Information about Palantir's financials is limited, but demand for its services seems to have surged in recent years. Certainly, investor interest has intensified -- back in 2013, the company was only worth $6 billion.
Given that it's a private company, it's difficult for most investors to buy stock in the firm. Retail investors in particular are almost completely locked out of Palantir's potential upside. But it's not impossible to invest in Palantir -- it's one of GSV Capital's (NASDAQ: GSVC) largest holdings.
A publicly traded company that invests in start-ups
GSV Capital is a regulated investment company (RIC) that holds stakes in about 50 different corporations. Some are publicly traded, notably Twitter and Chegg, but most are relatively early stage private start-ups. Examples include PayNearMe, Curious, and Coursera. Other holdings include many of the more well-known major tech unicorns, such as Dropbox, Spotify, lyft, and Snapchat.
GSV Capital trades in and out of positions in these companies, making investments in financing rounds and acquiring shares in the secondary market. As an RIC, it's required to distribute at least 90% of its taxable income. Last year, it paid out a dividend of $2.76, largely driven by the sale of some of its Twitter shares.
Each quarter, GSV Capital estimates the value of its holdings and discloses its net asset value. Last quarter, it pegged the value of its nets assets at $243.1 million, or $10.96 per share. Given that GSV Capital is currently trading at around $5.50, investors may be skeptical of the firm's ability to time its investments, or the underlying quality of its assets. Certainly, as many of GSV Capital's positions are private companies, the value of its assets are open to debate. Moreover, widespread fears of a bubble in technology stocks (especially private unicorns) may be discouraging investors. A technology crash could devastate GSV Capital.
But it also offers investors the opportunity to profit from the potential upside of these companies, notably Palantir. As of the end of March, Palantir was GSV Capital's largest holding, representing 14.2% of its portfolio. That's a sizable position, as its second-largest holding, Dropbox, accounted for just 5.9% of GSV Capital's portfolio.
Data science, big data, and security
During GSV Capital's May earnings call, management fielded questions about Palantir and why the company continued to favor it as an investment.
"...[Palantir's] core business is doing exceptionally well," said GSV Capital's CEO Michael Moe. " It's an incredibly well positioned business, data science and big data, security -- there couldn't be three more important themes in terms of what businesses are looking for; and the solution that Palantir has been able to provide is exceptional...we think the fundamentals of Palantir are spectacular."
Moe also cited Joe Lonsdale's post on Quora to explain his views on Palantir. Lonsdale, a Palantir co-founder, was responding to a negative Buzzfeed article, which painted Palantir as a company plagued with problems and facing high employee turnover. Lonsdale defended the company, arguing that turnover was modest, and that it continues to experience rapid growth.
Palantir is private and famously media-shy, which makes assessment of its business difficult. Last quarter, GSV Capital marked down the value of its Palantir shares due to some secondary trades. Palantir may go public in the future, which would make GSV Capital's stake easier to value, but it has no definite plans to enter the public markets -- at least for the time being.
Certainly, acquiring GSV Capital shares isn't equivalent to investing in Palantir. GSV Capital shareholders have almost as much exposure to Dropbox and Spotify -- two very different business that operate in very different markets. But for retail investors looking to add Palantir exposure to their portfolio, GSV Capital may be the only option.