Changing the world while earning profits: just how What3Words found its way

One of this biggest running jokes in tech could be the ‘we want to replace the world for the better’ trope via Silicon Valley organizations. With Twitter changing its entire mission declaration become about changing the world the better, it appears as though an ideal time and energy to concern whether a technology company can truly end up being the servant of two masters: the good of society and its own important thing. 

It looks like companies are either big, and very financially effective with bolted-on ethical  practices, or focussed on improving the globe but won’t make severe money. 

One business that’s bucking that trend is What3Words (iOS, Android os), a free of charge location software which has given addresses towards the world by dividing it into three meter square units, allocating a three term combination every single, providing you easy to keep in mind, extremely accurate location information. 

Smart and simple

As easy an idea as this seems, as it happens it’s been quite revolutionary for people within the developing world that don’t have post rule, and/or an address. However it appears like the benefits reach far beyond humanitarian efforts.

We sat down with What3Words CMO Giles Rhys Jones at an event hosted by Tech4Good to generally share in which the idea came from, exactly how it generates its cash and just what’s next.

The first concept came – as much great tips do – out of requisite. What3Words founder Chris Sheldrick was a musician and music events organiser who frequently struggled with corralling performers, roadies and team due to poor addressing. 

“Chris decided which he would use GPS coordinates because GPS coordinates are accurate, exactly what could get wrong?” Giles said. “But it became obvious rapidly that roadies, guitarists and caterers aren’t well programmed to remember 18 digits.

“And the problem with GPS coordinates is when if you produce a small error you don't fundamentally realize you've made a mistake. You mix up a four and a five, whilst still being you wind up for a hillside in Rome, simply on wrong hillside.”

They experimented with using an alphanumeric code to shorten it down, but discovered that brought more problems, just like you mix numbers and letters, a ‘1’ could since effortlessly be described as a ‘7’, as well as an ‘l’. It was back again to the drawing board. 

“There had been a dictionary on the table, plus they thought: ‘How many words would we need [if we had been just using terms]?’ They exercised that three meters by three meters ended up being the best size to be useful, and there have been 57 trillion of these three meter squares on the planet. To cover all of them you’ll need 40,000 terms, as 40,000 cubed is 64 trillion, gives you enough to pay for the whole planet.”

A lot more than simply a faster pizza distribution

The fact that it covers the entire world happens to be revolutionary, particularly for those in countries that don't have an advanced addressing system, whether they have one anyway. 

Through the meeting, Giles talked in regards to a system that What3Words is involved in in Durban, Southern Africa. A admission device is planted at the heart of the rural town, which people can use to print down a three-word ticket the location where they live. They can then offer that address to crisis solutions, possibly saving life in situations in which every minute matters. 

This is wholly free, since is the software it self, which can be amazing, but doesn’t noise perfect for profit margins. It begs the question: can an organization both do good and make cash? 

“Yes, also it should. There's a number of various studies nowadays that state that companies with function perform better than those without. I think that certainly at this particular point in in history, individuals gravitate towards organizations that they have shared interests, shared belief, which they share a philosophy with.” 

Helping to make sense, nevertheless the basic (and now we understand that is really fundamental) principle of capitalist economics usually value is driven by supply and need. When you have something that people need, you can charge more because of it. 

Clearly, once you obtain a item which makes a big change to people’s everyday lives, therefore charge a whole lot for this, you get as Martin Shkreli. Nevertheless give it away free, and in which does your profit come from?

“If you’re a large business and you will make or save yourself lots of money using us we charge you a fee based on volume. We ran some tests in London and Dubai and in Manchester. In London we provided two couriers 20 celebration parcels each, one using the three term addresses on, one with similar street details on, so we tracked all of them with GPS monitors and heart rate monitors. 

“The one with three-word details ended up being 30% quicker. In Dubai it absolutely was 40% faster. For the company that's a significant amount of cash. UPS said when they could save yourself each of their motorists one mile on a daily basis that means a saving of 50 million dollars."

Making use of technology to leapfrog

Among the certainly fascinating things that's happening with What3Words that it never ever anticipated is that developing nations have already been in a position to skip vast chunks of technical developmental history as a result of having the ability to locate yourself utilising the software: 

"In Mongolia you may get a pizza, you may get a taxi, you’ll open a banking account all having a three-word address. They’ve leapfrogged all the legacy systems that we have here in the Western developed nations, and they’re into the future currently."

It's clear that What3Words is effectively making good money while doing good. Obviously its business model can't be utilized by all businesses, but it's good to see a typical example of it in action.

  • Desire to see more positive modifications being attributable to technology? Check out: Hashtags that save lives – the conclusion of slacktivism