Chris Sheldrick co-founder & CEO of what3words, explains to Annie Turner how a unique combination of three words will give you a precise location for anything, anywhere in the world, anytime – and why this precision is a game-changer, backed by some very large transport companies.
AT: What gave you the idea for what3words?
CS: I was working in the music industry, organising live music events around the world. Bands and equipment constantly got lost trying to find venues and festival locations. It became clear to me that addresses just wasn’t good enough, and the problem was universal.
I tried giving out GPS coordinates, but they were hard for people to input into their car or device, and near enough impossible to communicate correctly over the phone. Mistakes were easy to make and hard to pick up on until it was too late.
So I sat down with a friend to see if we could find a solution that was as accurate as coordinates, but concise and memorable too.
AT: So you came up with a scheme to divide the entire surface of the planet into small squares, each with a unique name, made up of three ordinary words. How many squares did you need to cover the Earth’s surface and how did you generate all those unique names?
CS: what3words has taken the world, and divided it into 57 trillion 3 x 3 metre squares, assigning each with a unique three-word address made up of three words from the dictionary. It means that anywhere on the planet can be communicated using just three words. Our system is an algorithm, which takes coordinates and turns them into three-word addresses.
AT: What applications is what3words being used in for IoT and transport?
CS: Now people can refer to any precise location – a delivery entrance, a picnic spot or a drone landing point – using just three words. what3words is used by businesses, governments to operate more efficiently, and by individuals to find and share places. It is integrated into car navigation systems and ride-hailing apps, is used to deliver post, and also by non-governmental agencies and disaster response teams to save lives.
AT: Yours is a 2D solution, but we live in a 3D world – how do you deal with someone who lives on the thirty-second floor, say?
CS: Just like a regular street addresses, three-word addresses work in 2D, and so we need additional information to specify height: if you live in an apartment block you’d give the three-word address for the main entrance, plus the floor and flat number.
AT: Who is investing in your company and how did you get to where you are today, with Mercedes-Benz about to launch the world’s first car with built-in what3words voice navigation?
CS: what3words was started in March 2013, and for a while, it was just three people. Now we have over 100 employees across the world and we’re growing fast.
To get to where we are today we put a lot of energy into seeking out the right investors to bring the business credibility, contacts, experience, and knowledge as well as funding. We are incredibly lucky to have a range of industry-experts backing what3words, all drawing upon extensive expertise, following successful careers in the automotive, technology, venture capital and challenger sectors.
Our recent investors include the Sony Investment Fund, SAIC, and Alpine, all of whom have strong ties to the automobility industry. Last year Daimler acquired a 10% stake in the business, following the announcement that Mercedes-Benz is about to launch the world’s first car with built-in what3words voice navigation. Our Series B investment round was led by Aramex, with other notable investors including Deutsche Bahn and Intel Capital.
Chris Sheldrick co-founder & CEO of what3words was interviewed by Annie Turner, editor of IoT Transport