10X Startup: What3Words is revolutionising the global address system
I remember being taught how to write addresses in school; yet every time I placed an order, or relayed my address, I had to give exact directions and a host of landmarks. This is in spite of staying in a popular neighbourhood. Even in Dubai, when I place orders via call, I’ve sometimes had to give them landmarks.
Relaying an address has changed in recent years with Google Maps and pin drops. Yet they still do not work on Whatsapp, unless you take a screenshot and share it with the person.
While it has reduced being an inconvenience, it is a matter of time, money and business to most logistic and delivery companies. Moreover, having an exact address and reaching the correct place within time is of utmost importance to emergency services.
This is where What3Words comes into play — an app that has been topping the Google Play and App Store charts since a few weeks now.
The ingenious solution
What3Words’ founder, Chris Sheldrick, essentially applied the logic of graphs to the entire Earth’s surface; dividing it into 57 trillion 3m x 3m squares. Each of these squares was given a unique three-word address.
Technically, GPS coordinates work well in pointing out the exact location, which is what Google uses. But try giving those coordinates to a person and mistakes are bound to happen. What3Words essentially takes GPS coordinates and makes them more communicable.
The startup has grown over the last six years to have partners across the globe. Not only is it topping the mobile application stores, but today it is also being used by emergency services in the UK.
Currently, these three-word addresses are available in 37 languages, including Arabic, and counting.
When it comes to vertical spaces, one might think they are tricky. However, the essence of address problem is that there are many streets with the same names, while some have no names, and large venues have multiple entrances. Imagine going dune bashing, you wouldn’t have an address nor a convenient way to inform people where you are.
What3Words makes this addressing system better. Instead of having a three-word address for your apartment, you can simply relay the three-word address of your building entrance, and from there usually the floor and flat number are quite easy to get to.
Coming down to businesses, last mile delivery companies know the importance of having the correct address, as time is money. What3Words’ Giles Rhys Jones told SME 10X that the company has raised £40 million till date and counts Aramex, Sony, VentureSouq amongst its investors. It’s most recent funding was earlier in 2019.
He also told us that they are increasingly gaining interest from e-commerce players in the MENA region, and have a team based in the Middle East to cater to their clients.
In the works
Businesses can integrate What3Words’ system in their backend, which would allow deliverers to ensure they reach the right address. Currently it is being used by Jaguar Land Rover in the UAE in its navigation system. Other business users include Mercedes Benz, Dominos Pizza, Saudi Red Crescent as well as Lonely Planet.
Their revenue models work on a subscription basis from businesses who integrate its systems.
It does not currently work with Google Maps, so you need to use What3Words’ app or website to know the address you are looking for and then navigate using its maps.
What3Words aims to eventually be so integrated within the systems of businesses and companies, including mobiles and applications, that it wants to remove its app completely from the app stores. They have the potential to revolutionise and standardise the addressing system of the world. As we get more connected and live in an ever-diversifying society, I cannot think of an address system that is as simple and as universal as the one that What3Words has introduced.