When Chris Sheldrick worked in the music industry organising live events, getting lost was the bane of his life. Suppliers couldn't find site entrances. Bands struggled to find venues. Festival-goers tried and failed to meet up at gigs. The problem was that postcodes weren't precise enough, and GPS coordinates – whilst precise – aren’t easy to remember. Chris thought there had to be a better way, and since he couldn't find one, he teamed up with two friends to create one. what3words was born. It is one of those brilliant innovations you wonder how you ever did without.
Describe what3words in a nutshell?
It's a location app. We’ve divided the entire world into 3-metre squares and given each a unique 3 word address - made up of three words from the dictionary. So, for instance, the entrance to our London office is at ///filled.soap.count.
Why is it useful to have a 3 word address?
Because traditional address systems like postcodes cover too wide an area. If you are a logistics firm, a photographer, a postal service, a food delivery company or you are in the travel or navigation business, you need more precision. And if you want to meet a friend at a festival or park, you need a simple to tell them the exact spot. 3 word addresses are simple and precise. They answer a need.
Before w3w: "Just past the blue tent, to the left of the loos ..."
How do I find out what the 3 words for a location are?
You go to what3words.com or our app and search on the map. The 3 words for your chosen location will display. Or download our free app which gives you the 3 words for your current location. It’s really easy.
3 words for your current location, or anywhere else
Does it cost anything?
No, for individuals it's completely free. NGOs too can use it free or for a nominal fee. Businesses using it for commercial purposes buy licences for our products including our API and SDKs which allow them to integrate w3w into their own systems.
Can you give some examples of how people might actually use 3 words?
People around the world use what3words in all sorts of ways - both everyday and creative. Some use it to give guests the 3 word address for their front doors - from the Isle of Mull in Scotland to Airbnbs in Barcelona.
We’ve been used to coordinate safety efforts during Glastonbury, by parachuters looking to identify their landing location, and by Mercedes-Benz drivers to navigate to a specific place.
We’ve been woven into plotlines for NCIS: Los Angeles, and used by Steven Speilberg’s team filming Ready Player One to coordinate specific shots.
We’re also used by many craft makers to create bespoke items with 3 word addresses of significant places on them.
Taking the guesswork out of meeting up
Does what3words link with Google Maps?
Yes, you can specify a 3 word address and then open that location in Google Maps, Apple Maps, Waze, Uber and CityMapper, among others.
What about Amazon?
We’re not integrated into Amazon check-out yet, but we are used on other ecommerce platforms around the world. We regularly announce new integrations with retailers, so keep an eye out for future updates.
Can I choose what the 3 words are for my home?
No, the 3 words for every location have already been set and they can’t be changed. There are lots of reasons for this but the main one is to make the app easier to use.
For instance, we’ve placed the more simple and common words in each language in places where the native speakers of that language are likely to be. So in our Japanese-language version, the shorter and more memorable words are for locations in Japan. The more complex words are for locations outside Japan where there are fewer Japanese speakers.
We've also placed similar-sounding 3 word addresses as far apart as possible, so that it’s easier to identify error. ///table.chair.lamp is in Australia, whereas ///table.chair.damp is in America. A user who accidentally puts in ‘damp’ instead of ‘lamp’ will quickly realise something is wrong.
If users were allowed to pick their 3 word address, these product improvements would be impossible.
What about abroad? I can imagine that this would be a really useful tool if you’re trekking in the wild?
Some of the most incredible places on the planet are off the beaten track and don't have an address - but you need to be able to find them! By using what3words it’s incredibly easy to find and share hidden gems. In fact, we’re used more and more by photographers and travel bloggers who want to be able to direct people to these places.
This year, many emergency services around the UK integrated what3words, meaning 999 callers can provide or are asked for a 3 word address, and help can be dispatched to that exact location, saving precious time. We know that we’ve been used in many rural areas - from lost hikers, by coastguards, horse riders and farmers.
It sounds like the sort of idea which gathers momentum and eventually reaches a tipping point. How fast is it growing?
We started off in 2013 with just an idea and the three of us.
Six years later, what3words is available in 37 languages, ranging from Japanese to Arabic, Hindi to Portuguese and is being used by over 1,000 businesses, governments and NGOs in 170 countries.
We've got a global team of over 100 people with offices in the UK, US, South Africa, Mongolia and The Middle East.
That's a big payroll – who is backing the venture?
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 in the automotive, technology, venture capital, and challenger sectors.
To date, we’ve raised over £40 million in venture capital. Our recent investors include the Sony Innovation Fund, Daimler, SAIC Motor Corp, and Alpine Electronics - all of which have strong ties to the automotive industry. Previous investors include Aramex, Deutsche Bahn and Intel Capital.
Thank you Chris.
Discover your 3 word address here.