This app wants to overhaul the world’s address system

Getting a package delivered to your house may seem easy and uncomplicated, but for large swathes of the world even receiving a letter is impossible.

Four billion people across the world lack an address and 135 countries have inconsistent, complicated or no addressing systems, according to London start-up, What3Words.

The company, which launched in July 2013, wants to combat the challenges faced by those lacking an address by overhauling the world's entire address system.

"In some developing countries, street names aren't recognized. If you are in the developed world and you want to talk about somewhere that doesn't have an address - a beach, a forest, for example, that becomes difficult," Chris Sheldrick, co-founder and CEO of What3Words, told CNBC.


Instead of road names and zip codes, What3Words has divided the earth into 57 million three-by-three meter squares and assigned each square a three word identifier such as "dog. cat. stick".

In this way, Sheldrick said, any delivery person can locate an exact point on the world's map even when a country does not have an adequate addressing system.

For instance, the venue for The Next Web conference in Amsterdam, where the company is currently exhibiting, comes up on the mapping system as "foremost.bars.sector."

However, What3Words will have to overcome some hurdles to be successful. The viability of the platform relies on mass adoption, which will need the biggest logistics and e-commerce companies in developing markets on board.

According to analysts, the likes of China's Alibaba or India's Flipkart, along with delivery companies operating in those markets, would need to recognize and broadly adopt the system—which could prove a tough task.

In addition, consumers need to understand the way in which the app works and educating a large proportion of the world in this new addressing system could be a huge task.

Sheldrick told CNBC that What3Words was talking to businesses about adopting its system, with partnerships already in place. What3Words is working in Brazil to provide addresses to people living in favelas, for example.

"We are talking to businesses that can benefit from this. At the highest level, there are governments in the world who have no proper address system in their country and we are telling them how we can revolutionise their address service," Sheldrick said.

Navigation and mapping systems are not new. The most popular ones such as Google Maps or Nokia's HERE service are well-known, but rely on existing address systems such as zip codes.

Currently the What3Words software is overlaid on Google Maps and Sheldrick said other systems such as Navmii and 3-D navigation service Geoflyer had integrated his app.

Sheldrick told CNBC that charging business and governments for using the app in a professional capacity would be the way the company monetizes What3Words.

He had big ambitions. "The three words will become ubiquitous. You will see them on an email signature or a contacts page of a website, just as you see standard addresses nowadays."