Farmdrop offers new way to food shop and seeks investment

imageWhen I discovered that something called Farmdrop was starting up in my area I decided to give it a try. The concept is simple.

Shoppers order and pay for produce from local suppliers online and then collect their purchases once a week from a local collection point.

Farmdrop caught my eye because there is fundamentally something rather convenient about it for the customer. You order your bits and bobs online during the week, and in the case of my local Farmdrop, collect it from the local pub on a Saturday morning. I’m fortunate that my local boozer is mere metres from my front door.

The producers in my case are Sussex farmers and small food producers and the list is growing. Last week, for the first Farmdrop in Hove, I bagged some bits and I was impressed.

I didn’t feel that the stuff was pricey, at least not because of the quality, and I’d classify it as being being roughly at or slightly above supermarket prices.

But, of course, I am willing to note that I am a fella on my own and not overly constrained by being on a tight, tight budget like many families. Thankfully I have a few quid to spare.

The fee model here goes someway to explain the fair prices though: producers pocket 80% of the retail price. 10% goes to Farmdrop itself for facilitating the service and 10% is for the keeper of the local Farmdrop who organises the collection of the food.

I will order again and like the idea in general. But I wonder if it has genuine broad appeal beyond my own gratefully affluent, ethically minded and middle class corner of East Sussex. And sadly Farmdrop loses that Tom and Barbera feel when you consider how it’s being funded.

I was interested to read that Farmdrop is solely seeking investment via VC firm Balderton’s newest crony, CrowdCube. The good news for Farmdrop is that Crowdcube has raised them a stack of funding. The bad news is that Crowdcube is now just yet another VC bitch. Therefore, and very sad to say, Farmdrop is now just another horse on the usual money-go-round.

An optimist will hope that lots of small investors will keep Farmdrop on track. I’d like to support it in years to come certainly. But I can’t help feeling that they could have been more original.

Thinking back, eBay founder Pierre Omidyar sought to keep early adopters of the eBay marketplace involved by giving them options as the first users.

It was deemed too complex and unattractive at the time and yet Pierre has expressed his regret that he didn’t stick to his guns on the record since.

If Farmdrop want to really sow their radical seeds as people who do things differently, part of their investment strategy must be about knitting in producers, keepers and indeed customers in from the earliest days.

VC gangs like Balderton don’t like this sort of idea because it dilutes their influence as the big money people – but an equity plan for customers, keepers and producers to really engage evangelists, recommendations and the like strikes me as a no-brainer for an idea like Farmdrop where ethics are said to be central.

My advice is: give loyal customers, faithful farmers and lynchpin keepers equity in Farmdrop when they keep on buying, and developing the business with you over time. We’ll stick with you for a year and beyond if you set out a plan. Don’t just think of investors: consider the guts of what keeps the business going.

Let’s see how gutsy the Farmdrop really are: they need to look out for the people who make their business in the long term and not just those who fund it. I’m watching this space. I hope my faith isn’t misplaced – I love the triumph of hope over experience.