Melissa Morris on The Pitch Which Won Sky TV's 'The Angel' Competition

Young entrepreneur Melissa Morris left her high-flying job in the city to develop an innovative new website after spotting a gap in the market which could help the NHS save money.

The tech savvy 26-year-old developed Network Locum, a unique recruitment platform that allows GP practices to find and book freelance doctors online, after cutting her healthcare teeth working for global management consulting firm, McKinsey.

Melissa then went on to work for NHS London to better her understanding of the internal workings of the National Health Service, before making the brave step to set up her own business.

In order to gain capital to help develop the website Melissa decided to take part in Sky¹s Dragon's Den-style TV show, The Angel.

Although she won the show and was offered £250,000 investmentl, Melissa decided to turn down the offer in favour of maintaining more control over the business.

We spoke to Melissa about the experience of winning 250,000 in a TV show competition; what made her pitch so successful; and why she turned the prize money down.

TNW: How did you come up with the idea for Network Locum and then arrive at the decision to turn your idea into a reality?

MM: I came up with the idea of Network Locum when I was a management consultant. I was shocked at the huge expense that locum staffing was costing small GP practices and the NHS. It seemed they had no choice but to pay large amounts of commission to recruitment agencies who weren’t adding much value. I thought about other industries where the internet has allowed job posters to circumvent the middle man and so came up with the idea Network Locum.

To make doubly sure the idea would work I decided to go and work actually within the NHS to better understand the system. After 8 months I decided to take the plunge after I received a small amount of seed investment to get the idea up and running.  

TNW: What makes your company different from your competitors?

MM: We are mostly automated so don’t need to spend money on expensive salespeople, we can therefore charge half the price that the competitors do. We allow GP practices to choose which doctor is best for the job which agencies don’t do.

TNW: Tell us a little about participating in the Angel TV show. What made your pitch such a success, and what did you lean from the whole experience?

MM:

It was a really surreal experience, like nothing I have ever done before. The tasks were really strange and seemed pretty abstract, but I got stuck in nonetheless.

I guess what made me a success was that I was open and honest about my weaknesses rather than trying to cover them up.

To win was incredible, it really gave me confidence in my abilities as an entrepreneur. I often have big confidence crises which can hold me back, to win something like this has really helped me realise that I should believe in myself more.

TNW: How and why did you reach the decision to reject the investment which was offered to you as a result of the show?

MM: I went into entrepreneurship wanting to do things my way. Unfortunately the terms of the investment were quite restrictive and really would have constrained my ability to shape the path of my company.

It took me a long time to come to the decision to turn my back on that kind of money, but ultimately I believe it was the right decision

TNW: What aspects of life in a big corporate company are you seeking to emulate with your own venture, and which are you seeking to do differently? 

I learned how to pack your day full and be really productive whilst working at McKinsey and that is something that has stood me in good stead.

One thing that I have had to move away from though is the respect for hierarchy. Being an entrepreneur you will never get things done if you are afraid to talk to people at the top.

This is something I initially found hard and was nervous about. It is a culture I would like to foster in my own company, I am not a fan of office politics

TNW: Do you have any tips or any advice for women who are thinking about becoming entrepreneurs?

MM: For me, the most important thing to do is to build up a support network of people who you can rely on. Having advisers who can help me with legal, accounting, business development questions have really been fundamental. Going to various networking events over time has allowed me to build up a great contact list of people who have helped me a great deal. 

TNW: What has been your biggest challenge throughout the history of your company, from planning to funding and execution, and how could others learn from it? 

MM: Staying strong and motivating yourself when you are really early stage is tough.

When you are not generating any revenue for example, you feel like you are making no progress. I was originally a solo entrepreneur and there was a point when I got really down about everything.

You can't let that happen to you because motivation and determination are the only things that make your business in the early days.

If you can, you should try and find a partner to share the hard times with. Luckily I found Will who I have made my business partner. It has completely changed everything to have someone to share everything with who can pick you up when you are down. 

TNW: Do you think that attitudes towards female entrepreneurs are changing? 

MM: Yes, I think people are less like “Wow, you are a woman entrepreneur! Well done” and now treat you just as they would a man – a bit annoying though as it used to be a point of difference to be a female entrepreneur which women could exploit. People are less impressed now!!

TNW: What do you think could be done to increase the number of women entrepreneurs?

MM: Think of ways to promote the confidence of those who would like to try it. In my experience women seem to have less confidence than men in general. Entrepreneurship has a lot to do with confidence. My friends and family were great at making me self-assured and that ws the main thing that kept me going and gave me the courage to go it alone. Mentorship, celebration of success stories, startup club-type things are all good ways to help instil confidence. 

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