Giles Rhys-Jones: What3Words

If you don’t have an address then it’s difficult to vote, open a bank account, or start a business. 4 billion people in the world don’t have an address. They are effectively invisible to their government.


Postcodes. Moments after taking to the stage, Giles launched into one of the most compelling start-up stories we’ve heard in a long while. He explained how What3Words are ripping up the address system and starting again by assigning three random words for every 3metre x 3metre square in the world.


75% of countries don’t have an address system. This makes it difficult for people to do basic things like vote, open a bank account or receive aid. But it’s not only developing worlds that are struggling. The UK has one of the best address systems out there, yet we still lose £831m every year in deliveries due to inaccurate address information – plus we sometimes have to stand in the rain while our Uber cab finds the right door.

If you think this is the perfect excuse for a holiday, you’d be wrong. We spend 22 million hours a year lost when we travel overseas, 1 in 3 people can’t find their friends at festivals, and a surprisingly high number of phone calls begin with someone asking, “Where are you?” Communicating your location is at the heart of all of these problems, so the team at What3Words decided it was about time to change the way we think about addresses. 


He’s divided the world into 53 trillion 3metre x 3metre squares. Then he assigned a random from the dictionary (across nine different languages) to describe every spot on the map. This algorithm turns GPS coordinates into a unique combination of three words, which is far easier for us to remember than random letters or numbers. It also allows us to label literally anything, from a water point in South Sudan to a shanty in Mumbai.

Before What3Words, the best hope for most of the world was to either use GPS coordinates (which are impossible to remember), use a pin on a map (which is fine for saying where you are, but tricky to write down), or use land-based addressing (which is basically telling someone to walk over the bridge and turn left at the tree etc). None of these methods are practical or scalable.

The What3Words system is already changing lives. Entrepreneurs in developing countries are setting up courier businesses to deliver medicine, companies in India are using it to maintain and install lights in the slums, the UN is using it to better respond to humanitarian issues, ski rescue teams are using it in Lake Tahoe, and Glastonbury used it to send out first aid to 200,000 people. 

Think this doesn’t apply to you because you live in the UK? As well as being able to pinpoint the exact entrance to a building (saving a 2-3 minutes for every delivery), those who live in a house that is bigger than 3 square metres can choose from multiple addresses – check yours, seriously, it’s better than reading your horoscope.


There’s huge interest in What3Words. Over the past couple of months, Giles has met with everyone from Will and Kate to the Prime Minister of Mongolia. He believes that What3Words can help make the world a safer and less frustrating place. After hearing him speak, we’re inclined to agree.

What3Words is also one of the most awarded start-ups to date, winning Cannes GP Innovation, Eurobest GP Innovation, UN Universal Postal Union, The Tech Awards, White Pencil D&AD Awards, Webby Awards, KPMG Best British Startup, London Innovator of the Year … Need we continue?