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Rushing assistance to disaster areas, delivering a pizza, and navigating in a car — what do all of these scenarios have in common? They are linked by addresses. what3words has created a new global addressing system, allowing any location on the planet to be communicated by just three words.
Here and in our Daimler-Podcast “HeadLights” on Spotify, Apple Podcasts/iTunes, Google Podcasts, I explain the start-up’s journey so far, what role the multimedia system MBUX plays for me, and what three words lead me to one of my favorite places in the world.
what3words was founded in London in 2013, launching a revolutionary system to combat a problem that faces the entire world challenge – poor addressing. We’ve divided the entire globe into a grid consisting of 57 trillion squares, each one measuring 3 x 3 meters. Each one of these squares has a unique name that consists of three words taken from the dictionary.
For example, the front door of our office can be found at ///filled.count.soap. Today, what3words is available in 36 languages and is used by individuals, companies, NGOs, and governments in over 170 countries. Mercedes-Benz was the first vehicle manufacturer to have integrated what3words into its navigation systems. Drivers can simply speak or type in a 3 word address, and the car will navigate to that precise 3m square.
Every day is an adventure
My job as CCO is really about creating an ecosystem of partners who find that poor addressing is having an impact on their business – affecting customer experience, or driving inefficiencies.
I definitely don’t have a daily routine — except perhaps that there’s usually a flight involved. The nature of our business means that our partner base spans a full spectrum of businesses – automobility, travel, logistics and humanitarian work – so no two meetings are ever the same. Previously, I had worked in the impact investment world, working with social enterprises. My experience there taught me about doing business and doing good together, and working for a company that is purpose-driven has always been important to me.
Women in tech
We continue to see an increase of women working in technology, which is great to see. Recently I got to participate in a discussion of mobility at She’s Mercedes together with Britta Seeger, the Daimler AG Board of Management member responsible for Mercedes-Benz Cars Sales, and a number of other women. It was a really interesting experience for me – although the tech scene has come along way in terms of diversity, being on a panel with multiple women involved in automotive tech is still a rare pleasure.
Building a team
One of my favourite things is seeing our newly hired colleagues flourish so quickly when they join us – so many of them are incredibly passionate, and they are brilliant at what they do. I learn a great deal from working with our product and marketing teams, for example, which are full of people with so many skills applying them to our big mission here at what3words. People who join us always have a spark – the desire to achieve big things and create global change. We hire people who can imagine a world where 3 word addresses are part of everyday life, and who want to build that world with us.
The team also has another thing in common: energy. Sometimes you need a great deal of strength in order to get new ideas moving. We love our work, but we also like spending time together — after a long workday the team often goes for drinks or plays sports together. Wanting to build something together and genuinely enjoying being around your colleagues feels very important in helping us all pull in the same direction. That’s true in our work with our partners, who also need this innovative, fast-mover mindset — whether the partner is Daimler, an Emergency Services organisation or Lonely Planet.
Our cooperation with Daimler moved at an incredibly fast pace. It took less than six months for them to incorporate what3words into a series production system – and at the IAA in 2017, people were able to enter 3 word addresses into a car for the first time. The integration of our technology into Mercedes-Benz vehicles shows how a partnership with a large corporation and start-up can work beautifully. The innovation teams and Research and Development colleagues really took ownership of getting this into the car, and their determination paid off.
The voice control of the multimedia system Mercedes-Benz User Experience (MBUX) can easily process 3 word addresses — much faster than a street address that has to be laboriously dictated. When I was recently in an EQC in Stockholm, we simply had to say, “Hey Mercedes,take me to what3words ///elephant.cloud.powder” — and the GPS system showed us the route to a parking space from which I had a lovely view of the water.
On the road with what3words
It is true that sometimes I would like a couple of extra days in the week because there seems to always be so much to do – so many projects and opportunities for our tech to make a difference.
To me, work-life balance is all down to what works for the individual. I love what I do and I love travelling. Of course I sometimes travel for fun, but there too, what3words makes sure I don’t get lost. During a holiday in Portugal, the owner of the tree house I was heading for had given me a description of the route I should take: “Follow the road for 20 kilometers until you see a small wooden sign” – we managed to miss this sign four times in a row (it was tiny!). But now the website that lets you book these tree houses uses what3words – and had I been able to speak a 3 word address to my car it would have been even simpler.
In Mexico, which I love to visit, I know the 3 word address of one of my favorite places by heart: ///pictured.pheasants.handball (the German w3w address is: ///dezember.klassenzimmer.vermischte). This place is located in an area without any definite landmarks. It’s the exact spot from which you can jump into the water under a waterfall. It’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.
An address system for everyone
The system can also be used for purposes other than finding beautiful vacation spots. In Mexico, for example, we saw a very different use-case for our technology. After the 2017 earthquakes, the what3words system helped to coordinate emergency assistance operations at the site of the disaster.
Our technology also enables NGOs to share addresses with people who previously did not have an address, so that people are able to give a home address for the first time in their lives. That’s extremely important, because people who can’t provide an address are often invisible to the government or local agencies — and as a result, they are often denied basic social benefits and citizen services. I’m always very moved when I see such examples of how what3words – through our free app – is used to help NGOs reach people in need or help communities access vital services.