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Where Are They Now?: what3words

Travel & Tourism

We spoke to Chris Sheldrick, cofounder and CEO of what3words, a startup which is completely rewriting the way we map the world.

Many places around the globe do not currently have a recognized delivery address. In developed countries this can be frustrating: getting lost on a walk or driving to the wrong car park. In developing countries however, it can make receiving aid problematic, making it a potentially life threatening setback.

what3words have developed an internationally recognizable delivery system for any location by dividing the entire world’s surface into 57 trillion three-by-three metre squares. Each square has been assigned a unique three-word code such as “teaspoon.trustful.acting”, more accurate than a postal address, and more memorable and easy to share than numerical coordinates. Crucially, the software can also integrate with existing APIs and co-ordinate-based address systems.

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A year on since we wrote about what3words, and the team have achieved a lot. For starters, they completed their Series B investment round, led by global logistics giant Aramex who operate in 60 countries around the world, and will use 3 word addresses to optimise their last mile delivery. The startup has become significantly more global and is now used by businesses and consumers in over 170 countries.

Their brand has also found success in popular culture: their 3 word addresses were used in Glastonbury and Burning Man festival; to coordinate filming and set locations on Steven Spielberg’s “Ready Player One”; and to help coordinate security at international events like the SuperBowl50 and the Rio Olympics.

Radical and disruptive, what3words originally appealed to a particular type of ambitious innovator. Although the team faced skepticism from the establishment, the simplicity and universality of the system was embraced by the creative industries and they won the Grand Prix for Innovation at Cannes Lions and a Black Pencil at D&AD. As CEO Chris Sheldrick explained, “This prompted many people to revisit, re-evaluate and embrace our solution.” They then went on to win awards from the Financial Times, KPMG and a host of other establishment heavyweights.

Learning from the challenge, Sheldrick was keen to emphasise the importance of focussing time on the ambitious innovators at the start, leaving those who need external validation for later. “The more disruptive the idea, the more people will seek credibility that the idea is being used by businesses and consumers.” he explained.

In terms of unforeseen challenges, the team are now engaging with the world’s global navigation, logistics businesses, and even government organisations. Having secured short term integrations across some key verticals, the company are now investing in longer term partnerships which has meant changing the way they spend their time. “Long term partnerships require an investment from us in people on the ground for a sustained period of time, leading us to set up local offices so we can service large-scale clients on an ongoing basis.”

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So what does the future hold? what3words are rolling out voice recognition and launching in Finnish, Polish, Greek and Arabic. They also have a host of new partners launching in the next couple of months which include national posts, vehicle recovery, emergency response, in-car navigation and taxi services.

With more employees, the company now have the capacity to devote time and resource to global events and sustained business development in the countries they are targeting. As Chris explains, this process is much aided by the number of languages they operate in. “Because of the rapid language rollout, we are now able to do business with any organisation in the world with the confidence that we can fully support the deployment.”

You can find out more about what3words here.