Start-up that wants to overhaul the world’s addressing system raises $8.5 million

Imagine typing three random words into your satnav rather than a zip code and street name. Start-up what3words is hoping to get you to do just that as it looks to overhaul the world's addressing system.

The British company announced that it raised $8.5 million in funding on Wednesday.

While many Western nations have well-developed addressing systems so we can get parcels or letters delivered to our door, there are large swathes of the world that don't. This is a problem for logistics companies in many emerging markets which have to rely on descriptions of roads in order to deliver packages.


Global logistics giant Aramex, which operates in 60 countries, invested $2.94 million as part of the round, with existing investors Intel Capital, Force Over Mass Capital and Mustard Seed also participating in the round.

Instead of road names and zip codes, What3Words has divided the earthinto 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.

Aramex will integrate the what3words technology so that customers checking out on an e-commerce site can use their three-word address and get the parcel delivered to their door.

"In a lot of the Middle East, there are no address systems in place. People say that their office is the second office near the lamppost, even in affluent countries, infrastructure is a problem. If a driver is working out where this address is, it will take far too long to make that delivery. This is a huge pain point," Chris Sheldrick, chief executive of what3words, told CNBC by phone.

The company does not create its own navigation software, instead it integrates its technology with other systems such as Navmi, a mapping tool. What3words is on a push to internationalize and scale. Earlier this year it signed a deal with Mongolia's state-owned postal delivery service Mongol Post for what3words to be the national addressing standard.

But the challenge for the company is to get people to adopt the three-word addresses and use them instead of traditional ways they have communicated, which will mean effective marketing.

Sheldrick said the company is using the funding round to launch what3words in other languages as well as creating a voice product integrated with the car or smartwatch. This would allow people to just speak their address into their car navigation system.