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Melissa Morris: Network Locum

Melissa, 27 years old, left her high-flying job in the city three years ago to develop an innovative website after spotting a gap in the market which could help the NHS to save money in the long run. Shocked at the huge expense that locum staffing was costing small GP practices and the NHS, Melissa joined forces with William Hoyer Millar, recognising that GP practices needed to embrace flexible working in order to provide a good quality care with reduced budgets and so came up with the idea of Network Locum

Can you explain to our readers what Network Locum is about?

Network Locum is a leading online platform connecting locum doctors and GP practices, helping to improve patient access to primary care in the UK while saving the NHS millions of pounds through cost-efficiencies.

What exactly is Locum staffing?

A temporary doctor is called a locum. So, locum staffing is when a qualified doctor goes to work on a temporary basis in a medical organisation in order to cover for another medical professional when they are off work, a bit like a supply teacher. Historically, hiring locums has been expensive, as recruitment agencies tend to take 30% commission on each GP they place, which has a direct impact on the amount of money that is available to actually deliver primary care. This is why I set up Network Locum, to make locums more affordable for individual practices and the wider NHS.

What aspects of the NHS do you think need the most improvement or support?

A lot of attention has been on A&E departments but it’s access to primary care that needs the most improvement. Due to staff shortages, GP practices often can’t offer people an appointment for up to three weeks. This means that people often become so ill or so concerned that they go to hospital, costing the NHS tentimes the amount it would have if that person had got an earlier appointment with their GP. It’s cheaper to treat someone in the community and puts less pressure on A&E departments as people are seen more quickly. If a diabetic, for example does not have regular contact with primary care, it could lead to an acute episode, which can be life threatening, but could be prevented by early intervention

What led you to the point of creating the business?

During my time as a management consultant at McKinsey & Co, I worked on a number of projects across the NHS. From my work, I realised just how inefficient the NHS was, especially in the area of workforce management, and I believed that I could make a change. Being able to leverage a flexible workforce is the key to making primary care work. During one of my projects I spoke to GPs who were complaining that agencies were too expensive to do this. I knew then what I wanted to do.

To help think of a solution, I looked at other models in different industries and realised that locum staffing could all be done online, which would lead to considerable cost savings. This model would also make locum staffing more transparent. With traditionally agencies, GP practices are often given the nearest available candidate but I wanted to give them a choice in the matter. Network Locum provides them with a choice of candidates so they can make the right selection for them and their patients.

I also wanted to give GPs an option to give recommendations on locums. This is a completely unique feature – there is nothing else like this in the market but I felt it was an important step in giving practices confidence and control over the locums they use.

After two years of research, I decided to leave McKinsey and go and work in the NHS to get a first-hand experience of how everything worked, before setting up Network Locum.

Are their any aspects of your previous job that you miss?

I miss the training and development opportunities that you receive in large companies such as McKinsey. I was also lucky enough to travel around the world for my job and I miss that too. I miss working with my old colleagues. There was a really collegiate and supportive atmosphere and I felt comfortable talking to colleagues about challenges and concerns. Being a CEO can be lonely and trying to lead people is difficult at times when you doubt yourself. In the end though it’s worth it and it’s hugely satisfying to run my own business and see firsthand the difference that it’s making today and how it could change things in the future.

For those thinking of ditching their job, what are you three top tips for an easy transition?

Firstly, if you don’t already work in the industry that you want to start your business in, you should go and try it out. This will help you to get some experience of the kinds of trends and issues that are happening in that sector, and provide some insight into how your business could help.

It’s also a good idea to connect with people that inspire you, namely entrepreneurs who have a success story. They can be really helpful and will take time to meet with you or speak on the phone. I spoke to a host of successful entrepreneurs, from Martha Lane Fox, founder of Lastminute.com, to Will Reeve who founded LOVEFiLM as well as the CEO of Innocent Smoothies. It was extremely valuable.

My final tip would be to validate the idea as much as possible before you quit your job. Maybe even take some time off work to really get your head around it. Interviewing people in the industry and even releasing a pilot project to see if it works can both be really beneficial. This worked for me – we had a free version of the service that we launched whilst I was still working for the NHS. I didn’t quit my job until people started to use it to be really sure it was the right thing to do.

Impressively you won ‘The Angel’, a TV show for entrepreneurs. Can you explain what happened?

The prize for the show was £100,000 worth of investment from John Caudwell, founder of Phones4U. At the time though, I was already trying to raise money for a larger quantum, of £250,000. I went back to John thanking him for the money and informed him that I would be topping the sum up with other investment. He offered to give me the full £250,000 himself as a sole investor but in return, wanted a lot of control. I decided to turn down his offer to run my own business and make it the company I had envisaged.

How did it feel when you rejected the money?

It was absolutely terrifying. I didn’t have any other options at the time and it was a really big and bold decision to make. Once I rejected the money, I had to start from scratch, but I definitely felt like it was the right thing to do.

What options did you then weigh up to seek alternate funding routes?

I knew that I needed to approach many different people, to raise as much money as I could. I spoke to investors like Venture Capitalists and Angel Investors and also asked around to see if people knew of any other opportunities that I could take advantage of. It was a really difficult and long process. You have to go and pitch to investors and once they say yes, it’s then a case of going back and forth over legal issues and negotiating the price on shares. It’s even more difficult when dealing with various investors, as they all want different agreements!

It’s definitely worth all the stress when you finally raise enough money to get your business going. One thing I would say is that whilst raising money, it’s important to make sure you don’t take your eyes off your business. It still needs to grow, as that’s all that investors care about in the long-term.

You’re only 27. What other things do you have planned for your life?

It really depends on how the business pans out. I like to think that I will be involved in healthcare for the foreseeable future and also in healthcare startups as it’s an industry I’m really passionate about. So far in my career, I’ve built up trust with many contacts in the industry and I have strong opinions on how it can be made better.

I also think that I’d really enjoy learning more about healthcare in other countries. Each country operates so differently so it would be interesting to see what works and what doesn’t across a number of territories.

Do you have any time to spend with friends?

I make a conscious effort to see my friends. I think it’s really important to take time out for yourself, to do things like exercise and meet up with friends, as you do need to switch off from work. My friends are really good at listening to business issues that I have and giving me advice from an outsider’s perspective. A lot of my friends work in industries like advertising, marketing and web development, and they give me great insight on what I should be doing with my business. It’s useful because as a CEO, you tend to be a generalist, so it’s good to consider other people’s opinions before making the final decisions.

I know entrepreneurs who have failed because they’ve isolated themselves – they’re too busy working on ideas. This just doesn’t work, you need to keep a clear head and keep yourself happy at the same time, as it can be very lonely.

How do you think the UK education system could be improved?

I think that we are forced to choose subjects to study before we have any idea of what that actually means. This needs changing. For example, we have to choose a certain number of GCSEs, which can limit you later in life. There might be a career you want to do but you can’t because you didn’t do the right GCSEs or A-Levels. This happened to one of my friends who wanted to study medicine but he couldn’t at that time as he didn’t have an A-Level in Chemistry. I think that the International Baccalaureate is a better model – it enables people to do more subjects at a younger age, studying a wider range of topics and not limiting you to a chosen few.

The UK could learn from the American degree system. Students in the US take different subjects but only major in one topic at the end of their course. This is a good opportunity to get a broad knowledge in a variety of areas and makes you a well-rounded individual. I feel like only when you’re much more mature do you know what career you want to do, so there should be more options available.

What does it take to succeed in business?

The ability to be humble enough to take advice from people who might know better than you is key. Entrepreneurs often have a passion for what they think is right, but I feel that it’s important to learn from other people’s mistakes otherwise you’ll keep making similar errors.

I have tried to get advice from as many people as possible, even though sometimes it can get confusing. There are times when I haven’t taken well-meant advice on board and regretted it.

What does the working week look like?

My working week tends to be split up into five parts:

20% of the week is spent on hiring. I’m always looking for talented people to bring onboard. Forward planning is crucial; you have to think years ahead. Who do you want to be in your company? What is the ideal profile of your team? What are you missing and so on.

20% is spent on managing my team, thinking about how they’re interacting with each other, and making sure that everyone is happy. When you first set up a business, there are only a few of you so it’s easy to keep on top of what they do. As your company grows, you have to be more conscious about your team, ensuring that you’re recognising when they need your help.

20% of my time focuses on fundraising, even if I’m not doing an investment round. I’m always conscious of when I will next need money so it’s important to be prepared.

20% of the week is spent on looking at key metrics that drive the business and the final 20% of my time is spent on strategy. What will the product look like in the future, what type of people will demand it, who can we partner with? How will we get it there, who shall I meet to validate this? These are the kinds of questions that need constant consideration.

Any final advice?

I would say, don’t be afraid to delegate to other people. People confuse this with telling people what to do; actually it is about empowering people to make big decisions. It not only makes your colleagues feel valued, but it really fosters a level of creativity that leads the business to succeed.

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