#42: Chris Sheldrick CEO & Co-Founder of what3words

#42: Chris Sheldrick CEO & Co-Founder of what3words Featured Image

Chris is the CEO & Co-Founder of what3words – a global address system that names every 3m square in the world with a unique 3-word address. Some of their backers include Intel, Mercedes (Daimler), Sony, Deutsche Bahn, SAIC Motor Corp, Aramex, Horizons Ventures, & Alpine Electronics. Daimler acquired a 10 percent stake in the London startup last year and built it into the navigation systems of its newest A-Class and B-Class cars and Sprinter commercial vehicles.

Chris worked in the music business for 10 years, booking bands and managing production for events around the globe. He was constantly frustrated with suppliers not finding site entrances, and bands not finding their way from the hotel to their gigs. Chris tried distributing addresses and GPS coordinates for years but both failed him on numerous occasions. He was certain there was a better way: what3words was born.

What3words now counts 103 people in its offices in London, Mongolia, South Africa, the U.S., and Saudi Arabia. To date, the startup has raised a total of $56 million USD across nine funding rounds.

Listen to the full discussion here:



Connect with the Guest:

Chris Sheldrick: LinkedIn | Twitter | Company Website

Some of the highlights from the podcast:

  • Working on their mission to change the way 7 billion people talk about addresses.
  • The most interesting case studies: emergency services in UK and the National Postal Service in Mongolia
  • How they got into Mercedes and Ford navigation systems
  • User Cases in logistics – UPS has calculated that for every mile a driver wastes, it costs $50 million per year.
  • Savings between 20% and 40% can be knocked off if couriers would not be going to the wrong address
  • Talking about the company’s culture: “To work at what3words you have to believe that creating a new global standard in the form of three words is a wonderful thing. Because of this belief, you are really keen to evangelize it with every opportunity.”
  • How the invention of the wheeled suitcase is similar to what3words

Show notes:

  • [01:38] Tell us a little bit more about how you started.
  • [01:51] When you are in a rural area, your postcode often does not lead people to your doorstep.
  • [04:20] The whole idea was how do we simplify latitude and longitude into something very simple for consumers.
  • [06:31] Can you tell us a little about your collaboration with emergency services?
  • [08:36] What are the other fields, domains, case studies, and use cases wherein what3words are making a significant difference?
  • [09:12] One example is the mobility people are navigating, we are now built into Mercedes cars.
  • [10:22] We’re now also in Ford cars – called Ford’s sync system. Which means that you can now speak a three-word address to a Ford car.
  • [12:09] We’re now used on e-commerce checkout pages throughout the world.
  • [14:03] How did you end up opening such strong partnerships in Mongolia?
  • [15:20] 20 plus e-commerce sites in Mongolia have what3words in their checkout page.
  • [16:08] An author of a traveler’s guide went to Mongolia and saw that what3words is being used, therefore added it into his book.
  • [16:18] Through one innovation party you can spread the word and rally an entire community in doing something new.
  • [17:45] Could you share some what3word type solutions in terms of final mile logistics and e-commerce delivery issues that are currently present in different markets?
  • [18:06] I think that the issue of careers getting lost and time and money being wasted is universally understood across that industry.
  • [18:20] UPS has a figure that for every mile a driver waste, it costs the business $50 million per year.
  • [18:35] Huge savings between 20% and 40% can be knocked off because people are going to the wrong place which often happens with last mile delivery.
  • [19:56] How what3words works with e-commerce and logistics companies.
  • [21:56] How did you manage to successfully implement it? What are some of the steps and process you followed to make it successful?
  • [25:09] If you’re going to build an ecosystem around a new standard, you need to get everything happening at the same time.
  • [26:43] What is your long term business model and how do you generate income?
  • [27:07] Talking about the Business Model. What businesses pay for is to have the tool, the API or the SDK which converts 3 word addresses into latitude and longitude.
  • [29:47] How many businesses do you have registered and how do you see scaling?
  • [33:24] There’s no point spending a lot of time on people in companies who are not yet ready for new technology. You have to go for the ones that match what your state of the business is.
  • [35:28] How do you identify potential clients?
  • [39:42] Talking about implementing the method in the daily life of individuals.
  • [40:54] It isn’t just using a 3word address, we want people to get where they want to go more easily and more accurately.
  • [42:26] In the context of deliveries do you have any plans to incorporate height?
  • [47:09] What are some of the key things that define your culture?
  • [47:36] To work at what3words you have to believe that creating a new global standard in the form of three words is a good and wonderful thing and you are really keen to evangelize it with every opportunity.
  • [49:10] I think that being upfront about what you’re not as a company is important as what you are.
  • [49:39] Are there some other characteristics that you look at on the soft skill side in terms of knowing what a good fit and what is not a good fit?
  • [51:14] What are some of the hard skills that you’re looking for and how do you attract those people to what3words?
  • [53:00] Voice is not as straightforward you might expect. You have to work out what people might have said because there’s no such thing as like an exact match.
  • [55:46] Latitude and longitude or any other long complicated code are really unfriendly for voice. Our focus now is to make it super simple.
  • [56:19] What is the best piece of advice that you’ve received throughout your journey and how has it helped you?
  • [57:43] If you have something which doesn’t feel so new, you won’t be told it’s such a great idea, but then maybe you will have less opposition.
  • [57:56] How the story of what3words is similar to the invention of the wheeled suitcase.
  • [58:00] If you believe what you’re doing works, just push through and find the people in the business who want to be first, who will push you to that next stage.
  • [58:09] Our mission is to change the way 7 billion people talk about addresses.
  • [59:28] It’s just about believing in what you’re doing and finding ways to standardize things even if it feels new.

Quote from the Episode:

About the Host:

The host, Radu Palamariu is the co-author of “From Source to Sold – Stories of Leadership in Supply Chain”. He has been named one of the top 3 Global Supply Chain Influencers on LinkedIn and was featured in ForbesBloombergWEFBangkok Post, and MIT Supply Chain Talent magazine. Radu invites executives to share stories and perspectives around technology, logistics, e-commerce, supply chain, and manufacturing, and their views on how the future will look.

Alcott Global connects and upgrades the supply chain ecosystem by finding the right talent through executive search, developing talent through learning solutions, and meeting supply chain technology needs through a comprehensive crunch base marketplace.

The supply chain executive search has been our focus since the very beginning, offering recruitment services for top-tier supply chain roles at every level of the end-to-end supply chain: plan, source / procure, make, and deliver. Our consultants have years of experience in placing top talent, in North America, LATAM, Europe, the Middle East & Africa, and APAC, and besides speed, one of our biggest strengths is our network within the supply chain industry, and we capitalize on it to find the best solutions.

Through the years, we have grown as an organization and our offerings with it. One of our initiatives, the learning solutions- training and supply chain academy, is focused on transforming leadership- self-leadership, executive presence, influence capital, and business acumen. Through Supplify, we aim to match corporations with the top technology companies to solve their supply chain and logistics challenges with a focus on innovation and digital transformation.

We are in constant touch with the leaders in supply chain, inviting them to inspire the supply chain professionals in thought-provoking podcast episodes and events, and showcasing what is possible at the yearly Leaders in Supply Chain Awards.

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