Impact Investing Interview #3: How what3words are Changing the World

My first project when I joined Angel Investment Network back in 2014 was to organise a pitching event in central London. We selected five of the most exciting UK companies who were fundraising; we had no specific agenda to include impact companies – we just wanted innovation! We prepped them to pitch to 150 investors whom we had specially invited from our network.

what3words was one of those companies.

Mike Lebus & James Badgett, the founders of Angel Investment Network, had already invested in what3words’ seed round – so they were keen for Chris Sheldrick, the CEO and co-founder, to put in a good performance.
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He obliged. His understated charisma perfectly complemented the visionary nature of the project – dividing the globe into 57 trillion 3×3 squares and giving each a three-word “postcode”.

I was thoroughly impressed. The investors appeared less so, preferring to engage the other companies (some SaaS products and a few apps) in conversation during the post-pitch drinks. This lack of impact baffled me. I asked some of them what they thought of what3words – it was a cool idea but apparently, they couldn’t see its application.

Four years later they must be kicking themselves!

Since closing £600k through Angel Investment Network, they have gone on to raise $13.8m across several funding rounds with Intel Capital leading a $3.5m Series A; and Aramex International leading a $8.5m Series B. Their most recent round was a corporate one with German car manufacturer Daimler buying 10% of the company in January 2018.

And that application problem?

Well, I’ll let you read for yourself in my interview with the what3words team below.

Prepare to have your mind blown…

The Interview

Part 1 – About what3words

What’s your mission?

We are on a mission to make the world more efficient, less frustrating and safer. Our goal is to be a global standard, giving everyone and everything a simple, accurate and reliable address they can use whenever they need it. what3words impact 7

We want businesses, governments and services worldwide to use 3-word addresses to become more efficient, and improve their customer experience.

At the same time, we look forward to showing how better addressing can reduce businesses’ environmental impact, ease pressure on crowded cities, fuel economic growth in developing nations and save lives.
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Who are your clients?

Our 3-word addresses are now used by over 650 businesses, government agencies and NGOs across over 170 countries, and by sectors including automotive, e-commerce, logistics, automotive & mobility, travel & navigation, post, national infrastructure, events, humanitarian, disaster response and emergency services.

Our customers include Mercedes-Benz, who are about to launch the world’s first car with built-in what3words voice navigation. Drivers will be able to say a 3-word address and navigate to a precise destination, anywhere in the world.

Global logistics giant Aramex has integrated what3words to optimise its last mile operations in the Middle East and South Africa. Many other couriers and food delivery customers are using 3-word addresses, including Domino’s Pizza in Saudi Arabia.

National postal services in 10 countries to date have adopted what3words, giving over 200 million people an accurate and reliable address, many for the first time. Many of our customers are innovative future-facing companies including DXC Drones and IBM’s #AccessibleOlli.

Our humanitarian partners include the United Nations, who have adopted the what3words system for its disaster response and recovery app UN-ASIGN, alongside the Red Cross. Other NGOs include Gateway Health in South Africa, who are using what3words to address township homes on the outskirts of Durban, and who have trained local ambulance drivers to use 3-word addresses to reach pregnant women faster in the township areas, saving lives.

(Remember that application problem?)

What stage are you at?

what3words started in March 2013. A team of three managed it through its early development and funding. We now have over 70 employees across the world and we’re growing fast.

what3words can be easily integrated by businesses, governments and NGOs into apps, platforms or websites, with just a few lines of code using our online API or SDKs. Our free what3words app, available for iOS and Android, and the online map enable people to find, share and navigate to 3-word addresses is available in 22 languages. 3-word addresses can be switched instantly into any supported language, and even looked up in one language and shared in another.

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Our newest product, 3WordPhoto, allows people to easily label photos with a 3-word address and share them in any language. This means that a simple photo, shared in a message or on Twitter, can give a precise location.

We have already had great success integration our system with voice input with specific automotive partners, and intend to roll out voice capability into our own products in the future.

What is your business model?

what3words is free for individuals, and qualifying not-for-profit and humanitarian entities.

For business use, we sell licenses for our products including our API and SDKs, and services such as very large-scale batch conversion of 3-word addresses to GPS coordinates or vice versa.

How much funding have you raised to date?

To get to where we are today we put a lot of energy into seeking out the right investors to bring the business credibility, contacts, experience, and knowledge as-as well as funding.

We are incredibly lucky to have a range of industry-experts backing what3words, all drawing upon extensive expertise, following successful careers in the automotive, technology, venture capital, and challenger sectors.

Earlier this year, Daimler acquired a 10% stake in the business, following the announcement that Mercedes-Benz is about to launch the world’s first car with built-in what3words voice navigation. Our Series B investment round was led by Aramex, with other notable investors including Deutsche Bahn and Intel Capital.

What’s next?

Within the next year, we will launch our 28th language, allowing 3.8 billion people to use 3-word addresses in their home language (that’s 51% of the world).

We also expect to open more local offices to add to those we’ve opened in Mongolia and South Africa.

Our growth plans involve more global integrations to add to Daimler, Aramex and the UN, along with focused local market activity targeting all sectors within one country or region, creating an ecosystem in which 3-word addresses become a standard.

An example of this is Mongolia, where what3words is already used for post, e-commerce, taxis, banking, fast-food delivery, tourism and microfinance.

Part 2 – What3Words on Impact

What does “impact” mean to you as a profit-driven company?

We believe that companies should do good by doing business. We want to make our system as accessible as possible – what3words is free for individuals, and qualifying not-for-profit and humanitarian entities.

The practical impact of what3words is very clear: we give everyone and everywhere a simple address. Providing a simple way to communicate the location of homes, remote areas and disaster zone enables social and economic inclusion, the delivery of mail and facilitates emergency responses, registering to vote or opening a bank account.

We recently conducted global research and discovered that an astonishing 33% of people are open to trying an entirely new form of addressing.
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Can you give me an example of how what3words is used in the UK? And in the “developing world”?

The what3words technology is being used all across the UK: from a number of police forces to the emergency response teams at Glastonbury, delivery companies and Black Tomato a luxury travel company.

But it’s not just companies benefiting from the technology; individuals in the UK are using what3words every day to meet friends at festivals, organise running clubs in Hyde Park, planning hikes in the Peak District, communicate the location of injured animals on farms and to guide guests to their AirBnB entrances.

We are enabling everyone, everywhere in the world, whether they are in cities, on remote islands or even in tents on the Mongolian plains, to have a simple and reliable address.

An example of this, as mentioned above, is the fast developing country of Mongolia – remote and nomadic in culture – who have adopted what3words as their official addressing system. Now, for the first time, Mongolians are able to receive mail, register for a bank account and receive food deliveries – all by using a 3-word address. Similarly, we have been adopted by countries such as the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire, Djibouti, and Nigeria as a recognised form of address.

Do you support any charities?

what3words is, and always will be free for not-for-profit and humanitarian entities. We are used by diverse humanitarian partners, and it’s powerful to see our technology supporting those in need. We were used by the Mexican Government to aid disaster relief during last year’s earthquake, and are being used today by the Red Cross, NATO and the United Nations to provide humanitarian aid.

We are also used by a number of smaller nonprofits – one of our earlier partnerships which still remains incredibly special to us is Gateway Health. The Gateway Health Institute provides healthcare and community services in disadvantaged areas across South Africa. They run programs to deliver medicine, supply emergency transport for women in labour, and identify hot spots for human rights abuses. But many of these programs struggle due to the lack of reliable addressing.

Gateway Health uses 3-word addresses in the township of KwaNdengezi, near Durban. The what3words grid system means that every part of the township – including homes, community centres and facilities like water pumps – already has a pre-assigned and fixed address.

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Once a home knows its 3-word address, its residents can share the location accurately and reliably. Medical services can identify where pregnant women live and provide them with essential pre-natal care. Should any complications occur during labour, ambulance crews also know exactly where to go, to provide life-saving assistance.

What is your current biggest challenge?

Our biggest challenge is that we’re trying to effect a huge, global behavioural change. People have been using street addresses their entire lives, without questioning them. They get lost, packages go astray and billions of people worldwide have no address at all but, until they’re challenged to really think about it, some people don’t inherently feel there’s a problem.

We’re overcoming that challenge by refining how we clearly and quickly demonstrate the problem, finding examples (and there are so many) of when poor street addressing frustrates individuals and costs companies billions. As soon as people see how poor addressing affects them personally, they immediately see the need for our solution.

What are you most proud of/excited about for your business?

The Mercedes-Benz partnership was a huge achievement, and the announcement at CES was an incredible memorable moment for us. The process was also especially fast – taking only 6 months from inception to integration – and there are already over 700,000 cars on the road which are what3words enabled.

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Because poor addressing affects so many industries – from navigation to travel, logistics to events – it’s exciting to see the tangible impact that our technology brings, and the room for exponential adoption. Bad addressing is so universal that our potential partners and use cases are unconstrained.

So where does what3words come on the Impact Scale?

The vision of this company is extraordinary. Four years ago it was so extraordinary that many of our investors could not see its application and potential impact. The what3words team’s execution over the past four years has made a mockery of that.

Here is a company that can count itself among the most innovative to come out of the UK tech scene in recent years. Who knows what the future holds for them but I’d put my money on good things!

Angel Investment Network’s latest project SeedTribe, which focuses on angel-led crowdfunding for impact companies, was built to help companies like what3words get off the ground and change the world. You can view latest impact companies here.

I hope that what3words’ story can inspire budding impact entrepreneurs and investors to build impactful companies.

Impact Investing Interview #1: Work For Good

What is Impact Investing?

Impact investing is when an investor backs a business which has a social and/or environmental mission at its core.

This is not the same as philanthropy where investors expect no returns on their investment other than the reputation boost; and an impactful business is not the same as a non-profit.

Impact investments are made, with financial returns in mind, into businesses targetting profitability alongside their social mission.

An impact investor is, therefore, someone who chooses to support great businesses aiming to do good and make money, rather than just turn a profit.

The decision to be an impact investor is an empowered choice which has already enabled many world-changing businesses to do great things. The rise in awareness of the key social and environmental issues of our time has started a shift in the way many investors view the desired outcome of their investments. More and more want their financial outlay to have an impact as well as generate returns.

What are we doing to help this movement?

Angel Investment Network recently launched Seedtribe to attract more of its investors into the impact investment space.

Seedtribe is an angel-led, crowdfunding platform when everyday investors can invest from as little as £1000 into opportunities backed by angel investors and curated by the Seedtribe team. Investments can be made directly through the platform so the process is as seamless as possible.

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We are confident that this new model will help impact businesses complete their funding rounds quickly so that they can focus on bringing their benefit to the world.

We are delighted to have Work For Good as one of the first impactful businesses on the Seedtribe platform.

Who are Work For Good?

UK annual charity income is around £20bn, but only 2% of this comes from businesses, as the process is complex, costly and lacks transparency with many legal and tax impediments. Work For Good’s platform removes these barriers and has created a market for corporate giving.

Work for Good makes it easy for businesses to give in a way that’s good for them and charities – by doing what they already do. By giving through the Work For Good platform, they can impress their clients, inspire their people, and be a force for good in the world.

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Liv Sibony recently took charge as the Head of Crowdfunding at Seedtribe and brought Work For Good onto the platform. (Liv previously founded and sold Grub Club, a platform aimed at helping chefs build a reputation and an income by hosting pop up dining experiences.)

She sat down with Danny Witter, CEO & Co-Founder of Work For Good, to get some insight into the problem of corporate giving and the Work For Good solution…

The Interview

What’s your vision for the company?

To make business giving the norm and to unleash the giving power of the business world. Business giving makes up only 2% of all charity income in the UK which is a disgraceful figure. We can not rely on the giants of the business world to do it for us, The FTSE 100 charitable donations are down 25% from 2013 to just £1.2 billion in 2016, so why not create a culture where the other 5.7 million businesses support causes just by doing the work they already do? If 5% of SMEs gave one day’s revenue, it would generate £208 million annually.

It also improves the bottom line for businesses (68% of SMEs believe their company’s donations to charity had a positive effect on their company’s profitability and 37% of SMEs claim that giving to charity helps to attract new clients) and improves employee morale while raising vital funds for charities.

For charities, especially the smaller, local ones who have less capacity to market themselves and seek donations, we will create greater visibility and support for them to grow their efforts and allow businesses to match with charities that are local or relevant to them.

We don’t think this vision should be limited to the UK either, we strive to see people working for good across the globe, and are delighted that we’ve now received trademark protection across the US and EU.

Can you tell us more about the meta-trend of purpose in business, as you see it?

Investing in good causes grows your business too. In fact, many companies are using it as a major part of their business strategy – TOMS’ ‘One for One’, Warby Parker’s ‘Buy a Pair, Give a Pair’, and Bombas socks ‘One pair purchased = One pair donated’ are just a few using ‘giving back’ as part of their marketing strategy. Cause-related marketing is not just a fad, it’s the response to consumers buying with their own values and in mind.

Consumers increasingly care about where their products come from and how businesses behave, and we see lots of marketing around sustainability and responsibility, and now, giving. The trend is deepening fast, and when in January Larry Fink, CEO of the world’s largest asset manager BlackRock, published a letter saying that firms that lack a social purpose “will ultimately lose the license to operate from key stakeholders” it marked a watershed moment in the importance of authentic corporate responsibility. This applies from global behemoths to sole traders, and Work for Good is particularly focussed on SMEs that have less resource to do so.

For all the personal graft no business was ever built by the founders alone. Just as it takes a village to raise a child it takes a community of stakeholders to build a business. Without loyal customers, reliable suppliers, supportive investors, engaged communities and dedicated employees you have no business. Today, these constituencies want more from the companies they interact with. They are as interested in the story behind the business, the purpose the drives it and the positive values that underpin it. It is no coincidence that B Corp businesses, exemplars of the purpose-led commercialism, have been shown to grow 28 times faster than the UK economy. The giving mechanisms on our platform can also allow for a company’s clients/customers to choose the charities to which they donate. It gets everyone involved and motivated.

Why is it currently so difficult for businesses to give to charities?

The mechanisms currently in place just do not create a marketplace for business and charities to find each other and make transactions. It’s not just as simple as seeing a charity you would like to support, and then donating. Charities often do not even have a payment portal on their sites. The days of writing a cheque are long gone. Charities also find it hard to cut through the noise to create relationships with relevant businesses who may be interested in supporting them.

Work for Good is encouraging businesses to give in a smart way that is good for business, specifically by linking donations visibly to what they do, and talk about it with pride and authenticity in a way that will engage all their stakeholders, and inspire other businesses to follow suit.

However if you link donations to sales and talk about it you get caught by the charities acts, which prescribe that you have to bilaterally negotiate a commercial participation agreement with every charity you might give to, and the charities have risk of paying VAT on those donations.

As such it is painful to implement, and many charities have minimum annual donation requirement of up to £100,000 a year before they’ll negotiate a CPA with a business, which excludes virtually all SMEs.

Work for Good has solved this, the combination of the terms a business signs with the platform and the terms signed by any charity jointly form the CPA, allowing businesses to give to as many charities as they like in a few clicks, in any size, and without having to engage the charities direct, with both parties being entirely compliant. There is also no VAT payable by the charity.

What does “Impact” mean to you as a profit-driven company?

It’s a way to merge the profit-generation that people already strive for with the purpose of producing a specific benefit to society. We want to maximise that impact potential for businesses.

For us, the amount of money going to charities via our platform is the metric we concentrate on most. We believe that good business should have a positive impact on society. Our mission is to create a culture of business giving and therefore an increase in the amount of donations charities receive from SMEs. We also believe that giving has a positive impact on a business’ bottom line – two-thirds of businesses we surveyed reported higher profits when they incorporated giving into their business strategy.

Interested in Impact Investment?

If you want to find out more about Work For Good and their current fundraising round, visit their pitch page on Seedtribe.

Do you anyone who might consider using Work For Good for their business?

Do you know anyone interested in impact investing?

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