what3words Gets $3.5M Led by Intel Capital To Simplify Location Sharing

Location-pinpointing platform what3words has closed a $3.5 million Series A funding round led by Intel Capital, with Li Ka-shing’s Horizons Ventures and several of w3w’s original angel investors also participating. It brings the total raised by the U.K. startup, which was only founded back in July 2013, to $5 million, after it topped up its initial $500,000 seed with a further $1 million last year.

what3words’ premise is simple: simplify the ability to share an exact location by replacing long numbers or codes (e.g. location co-ordinates or alphanumeric codes) with a short string of three words. Words are, after all, a lot easier for humans to remember; share without error; and communicate vocally vs long chains of numbers.

The startup’s location reference platform comprises a global grid of 57 trillion 3mx3m squares — each of which has a unique, pre-assigned three word address, such as rocket.talents.pans in one English example (or envíe.paisajes.pesca in Spanish) — to make a location easy to share, and do so in a way that’s universal across the globe vs different countries’ address systems.

w3w is available in nine languages so far, and adding more languages to the service is one of the priorities for the new funding, along with introducing voice recognition and expanding its geographical presence, including opening a new office in Silicon Valley.

what3words has shifted away from its initial business model which had involved trying to sell single word location labels for a subscription fee to businesses and/or individuals — an idea that clearly failed to garner much momentum.

It’s now licensing three word addresses to geographic information system providers. Last month, for instance, it signed a deal with Esri for its ArcGIS mapping platform, allowing its three word location labels to be used as a locator within Esri’s platform and software. Other paying customers include Navmii and the Norwegian National Mapping site, Norgeskart.

“We experimented with OneWords but what we realized is everyone actually wanted the three word product so we discontinued the OneWords and kept with the core product,” says CEO and co-founder Chris Sheldrick, in a brief call with TechCrunch. “We take revenue by licensing the three word address to latitude and longitude conversion tools.”

The earlier OneWords business model feature was discontinued “probably a year ago”, he adds.

Commenting on Intel Capital’s investment in the startup in a statement, Arvind Sodhani, Intel executive VP and president of its investment arm, described it as a good fit for Intel’s strategic focus on location technologies — arguing that the simplicity of w3w’s universal location labels has the potential to offer “huge efficiency opportunities for businesses”.

Sheldrick says what3words now has consumers in 170 countries using its free mapping product, along with businesses that have integrated its API and SDK “across a range of sectors” — although he won’t confirm any metrics such as how many paying customers it has at this stage.

And if you’re wondering how a simplified mapping system that divides the world into three word labels is defensible from a technology standpoint, Sheldrick says what3words has “several patent applications for different parts of the technology with extensive geographical coverage”.