Navigating the world with three words

EntrepreneursTalk event with CEO of what3words addresses global navigation, entrepreneurship, business for good and staying afloat during the pandemic

The Business School (formerly Cass) welcomed Chris Sheldrick, CEO and Co-founder of the global address system what3words for the first online edition of EntrepreneursTalk. The event was moderated by Reuters business journalist Axel Threlfall, formerly of CNBC, Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg.

Mr Sheldrick discussed navigation, the inspiration behind setting up his company and managing a business in times of Covid-19. Having started his career in music management, he co-founded what3words in response to frustrations with the complex GPS coordinate system.

He wanted to help musical talents find their next concert venue but discovered that current systems were ineffective for most practical needs. With the help of his friends Mohan Ganesalingam and Jack Waley-Cohen, he created an “idiot-proof” system, using a unique three-word combination of words to name every three metre by 3 metre square on Earth.

Mr Sheldrick’s talk addressed the importance of entrepreneurship and its ability to play a key role in society across many pertinent areas.

Social entrepreneurship

Mr Sheldrick explained the importance of social entrepreneurship and business for good to create a sustainable organisation and make a difference – highlighting how emergency services are able to use what3words’ services for free.

“We will never charge the use of our app to emergency services, police, air ambulances, coast guards and firefighters,” he said. “Pinpointing an address can be a matter of life or death.”

“The UN estimates that four billion people worldwide – particularly in developing parts of the world – do not have an address. Our aim is to provide people with a straightforward way of talking about locations.”

Chris Sheldrick

Coronavirus pandemic

Although the Coronavirus pandemic has rocked many businesses back on their heels, Mr Sheldrick said the flexibility of start-ups and Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs), and their ability to adapt to a crisis, was a huge strength for what3words and others.

Mr Sheldrick also predicted a surge of post-pandemic activity and said services like drone deliveries, e-commerce and logistics had all been fast-forwarded due to COVID.

From raising funds to scaling up

“If you have a strong enough concept, people will believe in you to figure it out,” Mr Sheldrick said. One of what3words’ first partners was the Mongolian Postal Service, which, as he explained, was not as surprising as it sounds.

“It certainly wasn’t the first client we expected as a UK tech startup, but it was an excellent example of product-market fit: Mongolia is a huge country with few addresses.”

Mr Sheldrick’s advice for aspiring entrepreneurs was to focus on closing deals with large corporations to receive a stamp of credibility, and to offer innovation in return. The company’s partnerships now include Mercedes-Benz, Amazon Alexa, Ford, Domino’s Pizza and Lonely Planet, illustrating the importance of that first deal.

“The consumer market is expensive to reach. We leverage each brand we partner with to reach out to their own customers and tell them about the product.”

What3words is currently used by more than 190 countries each month, from Australia, Canada and the UK to the Middle East and Mongolia.

The event was organised and hosted by Aurore Hochard, Head of Entrepreneurship Programmes at the Business School.

Ms Hochard said Mr Sheldrick’s story could influence future entrepreneurs.

“We were delighted to welcome Chris and Axel for our first online edition of EntrepreneursTalk. Hearing the inspiration behind what3words and Chris’ journey from raising seed funds was hugely inspiring.

“The EntrepreneursTalk series is designed to provide insights through in-depth interviews with some of the UK’s most innovative and inspirational entrepreneurs.

“They provide an opportunity to meet these successful people and ask them questions about their vast experiences.”

Watch a full video playback of the virtual event with Chris Sheldrick and Axel Threlfall.

Find out more about entrepreneurship at the Business School.

Find out more about upcoming events.

Written by Eve Lacroix, Postgraduate Marketing Officer and Board Member of the Global Women’s Leadership Programme Executive Board.