Chris Sheldrick, Co-founder & CEO, what3words, reveals how words beat numbers and letters when it comes to finding any location accurately and communicating it more easily
Why is having an accurate location so important in today’s world?
Having an accurate location is everybody’s right. We are using postcodes and addresses which were designed decades or centuries ago to sort mail. And we are trying to use them today as a look up a very precise latitude and longitude. They are not really the right tools for the job anymore. Nowadays, people expect everything in their lives to be precise and error-free, and addressing is one of the last things about our lives which are still plagued with error and ambiguity. I think people deserve to have something better and simple, and yet accurate.
So, what is what3words doing for that?
What3words is a global addressing system which has named every 3mx3m square in the world with a unique combination of three words from the dictionary. Our algorithm turns latitude and longitude coordinate pairs into these three words and vice-versa. So, by saying something like table.chair.spoon, you are referring to a 3mx3m square in the world somewhere. With what3words, everyone and everywhere now has a simple address.
What is so unique about your addressing system?
I spent 10 years organizing live music events around the world and constantly faced huge logistical frustrations that came with poor addressing. A long string of numbers is quite awkward for people when you are using them manually in everyday life. And a lot of the other grid systems available were also long and complicated. So, the idea was to use words because there are thousands of words, and you only have to use three in a sequence.
Three words are easy for everybody to grasp. People’s ability to immediately remember three words is near perfect, whilst their ability to remember the 16 numbers, decimal points and N/S/E/W prefixes that are required to define the same location using lat-long, is zero.
How are you able to provide accurate address for every location?
We just use the latitude and longitude to generate three word addresses with our algorithm. The process is very consistent throughout the world because the area always remains the same. Also, working via an algorithm, as opposed to a database, means that the what3words core technology is contained within a file around 10MB in size, as opposed to what would otherwise have been an unmanageably large c. 20,000TB database.
Can you tell us about some major organizations that have adopted what3words?
What3words is being used by postal service companies in Mongolia. It is being used by the World Bank in Tanzania. It is also being used by navigation apps like Navmii all over the world. We have emergency services responders and music festivals using it, along with delivery companies in Rio de Janeiro. Many a times an app or a website tries to help people get to their destination or to get objects to where they are going. These are the kind of businesses which are using us at the moment.
How difficult is it to get funding for a startup like yours with such an unconventional idea?
A lot of people believe in our vision and want to be on our side and help us get global adoption of what3words. I think actually having an unconventional idea is a lot easier for people to buy into rather than if you are trying to do what everybody else is doing. But there aren’t many people who re-imagine coordinates and addresses on a big scale very often and I think people see that as a really compelling opportunity.
What’s the road ahead for what3words?
The road ahead for us we have got a big product launch coming this year where we have voice support for the three words, so that you could just get into a car and say three words and it will take you to where you want to go, through your smart watch or through your device. And in addition to that, we are focusing on more integrations and collaborations to bring us more consumers. We want to go deeper into this ecosystem with more and more countries. That’s really what we have planned.