Zoopla’s GC Ned Staple talks tech and new online grocery business FarmDrop

Ned Staple, GC and company secretary at Zoopla, talks to us about tech, the need for e-billing, and the £3m Series A funding of his online business, FarmDrop, founded with ex-Morgan Stanley stockbroker Ben Pugh and food industry specialist Ben Patten, which enables consumers to buy directly from producers.
How important is it that you have a good understanding of technology to do your day job?
It is essential. The Zoopla legal & compliance team advises groups across the Zoopla and uSwitch businesses, including in respect of IT contractual commitments, website consumer issues and data protection. To do this effectively we need a good understanding of the businesses’ objectives and the technology that underpins them. For example, to advise our digital marketing team on its plans, we need to fully understand the technology they use monetising aspects of our websites.
How helpful was your secondment at Apple in shaping your career and understanding of technology?
It was a fantastic opportunity to learn about iPhone and iPad agreements and to see the inner workings of a US tech giant. My secondment to Apple convinced me that I wanted to work in a technology business, but on a smaller scale.
Do you think private practice law firms use technology to full effect?
I don’t think they do. My experience of private practice firms is that they could use better software/systems to manage their billing and recovery. It would be really helpful to access real time billing (e.g. via a portal), but it seems a remote possibility at present. If there isn’t a start-up working on this right now, there should be one!
Why do you think law firms have been slower to embrace technology than other sectors? Do you see that changing?
I suspect no-one in the private practice legal community wants to be the first to undertake significant change. Also, the market hasn’t forced firms to try different ways of operating. Things are definitely changing. If you take the example of legal know-how, it always used to be concentrated in the hands of the law firms; if you needed a precedent JV agreement, for example, you had to go to a law firm.
Now you can access a wealth of resources online. Companies have much more choice and law firms have to differentiate themselves. This is a trend that will continue. Over time I’m sure companies will only retain law firms for specialist knowledge and advice.
You have launched your own technology business, FarmDrop, can you tell us a bit about it?
We founded FarmDrop – www.farmdrop.co.uk in the summer of 2012. It aims to simplify the food supply chain. FarmDrop enables you to shop online directly from local food producers (e.g. farmers, bakers, fishermen), and delivers your order to your door. FarmDrop makes shopping for high quality local produce more affordable and convenient, with zero food wastage for producers. The service has had a very positive uptake so far.
How does it work?
You place a food order with a range of producers using the FarmDrop website or app. The component parts of that order are sent out to the individual producers, along with other customers’ orders. The combined orders provide sufficient scale for the individual producers to drop the food at our hub. We then deliver it to your door. Simple!
What are your future short and long term plans and ambitions for FarmDrop?
We have just closed a Series A venture capital round with a fantastic VC partner that will be announced in the coming days. Short-term, we want to reach the next development and funding milestone. Longterm we would love everyone in the UK to shop on FarmDrop, thereby empowering small-scale farmers and food producers and delivering an amazing product and terrific value to our customers!
Update: This article first appeared in the January Legal IT Insider. On 3 February, FarmDrop announced that it has secured £3m of investment, led by Skype co-founder Niklas Zennström, through his London-headquartered technology investment firm Atomico.
Atomico was joined by a consortium of backers including JamJar Investments, run by Innocent entrepreneurs, Richard Reed, Jon Wright and Adam Balon.
Legal IT Insider readers in London can receive a discount when using FarmDrop for the first time by using the code LEGALIT20. It allows £20 off an order of at least £40. It expires on 29 February and you will need to check you are in the delivery area.