The story behind a £10m global tech start-up

Chris Sheldrick co-founded what3words in 2013. Find out how his business works and how it has won over investors and the automotive industry

Chris Sheldrick is on a mission to disrupt the addressing system of the world.

The award-winning start-up that he founded back in 2013 with business partner Jack Waley-Cohen, what3words, uses technology that divides the whole world into three metre squares; 57 trillion of them.

The squares are then labelled with their own sequence of three words; “the easiest words from the dictionary as possible” such as ‘Table Chair Spoon' for Alaska and then ‘Toffee Branch Pyramid' for the next square, continuing on from there.

Sheldrick and Waley-Cohen were inspired to launch the business – which has now raised over £10m investment – to “revolutionise navigation by making it easier.” Sheldrick elaborates:

“The world doesn't have very good address systems anywhere and postcodes in a lot of countries just don't exist. Every day, people are using landmarks as a way to get around and there should be way that we can all be very precise about location as easily as possible.”

While the technology what3words has to offer has struck a chord with investors (backers include Silicon Valley fund Intel Capital and Horizons Ventures), it has also caught the attention of innovative car brands:

“Autonomous cars are now coming out and that means you definitely won’t have a steering wheel and a peddle. These days you can type your address in [to the sat nav] and it often won’t take you to the exact location but you can drive on a bit as you can see where you’re going. That becomes a whole new problem when you have no steering wheel!

“We’re now working with car companies to get to the point where you can just say the three words to your car and the car will route you to your destination and deposit you at that three metre square. Now that’s a whole mental shift; you could be in your car with your family and you might say Cabbage. Spoon. Teabag. and the car’s just going to take [you there]. It will be a normal command.”

So, what happens if you mix your words up or say the wrong word, particularly if you jump in a taxi while inebriated?

Sheldrick explains that the business has labelled similar three word sequences far away from each other to avoid confusion. For instance, “let’s say you’re in London and you know you’re going somewhere in London, say you put in Table. Chair. Spoons to your [taxi's sat nav] and they reply ‘well that’s 4,000 km away in Taiwan', you’ll know that's probably wrong.” So that’s an important defining part of the system.”

Interviewed by Expert Market's Titus Sharpe, watch the full video to find out more about the story behind what3words…

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