Lantum was launched by former management consultant Melissa Morris in 2012 to help revolutionise the way the NHS manages its staff. Just six years later, 45 per cent of the UK’s GP federations use its platform and the business has raised £14 million in growth finance.
Melissa is passionate about her mission: to help the NHS manage its people efficiently at a fraction of the cost, with the goal of saving £1 billion on agency spend. Here, she shares her scaleup story.
Melissa Morris’s entrepreneurial education began when she was just four years old. That was the year her parents started a new company, selling fresh fish and frozen food. “I didn’t realise it at the time, but I must have been absorbing quite a lot,” Melissa says. “They’d talk about the business at the dinner table. I heard about all the different problems that arise when you’re growing a business really fast. They sold that company to Iceland when I was 17.”
However, the cut and thrust of startup life didn’t appeal to the younger Melissa. “I had no desire to be an entrepreneur back then,” she admits. “I wanted to go a different route. I went into management consultancy instead.”
Melissa forged a successful career in this niche, landing a job as an analyst at the prestigious McKinsey consultancy in 2008. But it wasn’t long before she grew frustrated at the lack of agency in her role. “I was giving a lot of advice and spending time making nice PowerPoint slides but the people I was working with wouldn’t always listen,” she says. “I really wanted to get my hands dirty and make something happen.”
At McKinsey, Melissa worked on several projects, helping to effect major change within the NHS. This is when she realised that one of the healthcare giant’s biggest issues was workforce management; some 75 per cent of NHS spend goes on staffing. She decided that she wanted to help build a business that would save the NHS money, while building efficiencies into its staffing model. “There wasn’t a ‘Eureka!’ moment, where I thought, ‘I’ve got it’,” she explains. “But I worked with the NHS for many years, both during my time at McKinsey and directly for it, and an idea began to evolve.”
In 2012, Melissa started her venture, then called Network Locum. The startup was bootstrapped in the early days, using just a little savings. The idea was to help the NHS fill temporary staffing vacancies at a fraction of the cost charged by recruitment agencies. Melissa tested the waters by creating a Facebook group to engage locum doctors and clinicians. Some 2,000 signed up, and Melissa knew there was a market for her idea.
The strong online engagement convinced an angel investor to back the business, and Lantum raised £1 million to hire a developer and build the platform.
“The product let practices connect with GPs when they needed cover. It did well, and saved a lot of money in fees.”Melissa Morris
In 2014, Lantum caught the attention of VC firm Piton Capital. After a productive meeting, Melissa decided to raise her Series A and make major improvements to the product. She secured Beringea and Playfair Capital as additional investors in the £2 million round.
Her tweaks paid off and, by 2015, the business had 5,000 locums registered on the platform. One of Network Locum’s most active users was the borough of Tower Hamlets. Melissa struck up a friendship with Virginia Patania, partner of the Group. “She liked our product but wanted a system that would let Tower Hamlets manage its own doctors too, not just find locums,” says Melissa. “There were 350 doctors working in the various practices and she wanted to be able to create a digital space where these clinicians could work across Tower Hamlets easily . Only once the Tower Hamlets doctors had been offered shifts on the platform would they become available to locum doctors.” Melissa saw the opportunity to pivot her business away from a focus on locums only. It was a bold move, which required a full rebrand. In 2016, the new-look Lantum was launched.
“With Lantum, we created a solution for workforce sharing, which ultimately changed the future of the business,” says Melissa. “At this time, lots of other GP practices were teaming up and forming federations. They were looking for solutions to help them group together more effectively and were calling up to ask for our service.” The change in strategic direction called for a new round of investment. “We needed to make the product more robust and hire more people,” says Melissa. The startup landed its Series B round of finance in 2016, securing £5.3 million from existing backers alongside growth investor BGF.
This cash, coupled with a surge in customer demand helped Lantum to scale quickly: the startup, which had only been active in London, rolled out nationally. It now works with 45 per cent of the GP federations across the UK.
“We talked to our customers and they were so delighted that we’d listened to their feedback and changed our model to meet their needs,” says Melissa. “When they asked for us to include nurses, pharmacists and even receptionists on the platform, we built the ability to onboard any type of staff. ”The impact on the business was significant: “We’ve onboarded more than 2,000 non-GP staff to the platform in the last four months alone,” reveals Melissa. “By listening to our customers, we’ve built a unique solution that is making a real difference to people’s lives.”
Lantum’s mission has been key to its success, according to Melissa. “Everybody really cares about what we’re doing,” she explains. “Lots of people here could have easily gone to work for other companies but they want to help the NHS do more with less, which creates a great sense of purpose.” Lantum charges clients a flat subscription fee, taking no commission. Melissa estimates that her service saves 20-30 per cent on staffing costs.
Having the NHS as a partner has also instilled a cost discipline in the organisation from day one, she adds. “We avoid spending money on frivolous things. When you work alongside an industry that’s so cash-constrained and careful with money, that feeds into your culture. So we are frugal ; we’d find extravagance hard to square when we want to save the NHS a billion pounds.”
To date, total investment at Lantum has reached £14 million, most of which has been spent on new hires.
Working with the NHS has its drawbacks, however. “The pace of change can be slow,” says Melissa. “As an entrepreneur, you’re impatient and want everything to happen now. But we are in a regulated industry that is risk averse and we’ve had to make peace with that.”
The company now employs 58 people, and has evolved from startup to scaleup. This means that there is more process and structure in place: “It’s so much easier now that we’re bigger,” says Melissa. “There are fewer fires to fight and there’s now a layer of middle management, which frees me up to be more outward-facing. I’m really enjoying this stage.”
The next few years will be devoted to consolidating the firm’s leading position in the UK. To that end, Lantum has bought two complementary businesses to help boost the range of services it offers its users. But the 32-year-old’s ultimate ambition is to take the Lantum model worldwide. “I would love to see if this model could work internationally,” she says. “It would be awesome to contribute to UK export and ultimately, we want to be on the world stage as a home-grown NHS product.
“That would warrant another funding round,” she adds. But first we want to scale here.”
Melissa credits much of her success to the business lessons that she learned at the dinner table as a child. “I learned very young that you need to develop a really thick skin to do this,” she says. “I’m really resilient. The more you fail, the tougher you get. It becomes a badge of pride when you can keep pushing forwards when others would give up.”