Season 7 -  The first hire

Episode 1 - Recruiting slowly to find the best talent

Romain Payet — As you know, until now, we have only discussed our partners, consultants, members of the board or advisers, who have helped us out of interest in the project or because they’re our friends. But we’ve not mentioned employees. Of course, there’s us two founding directors, who only started taking a salary from the venture recently, but we’ve not mentioned employees.

From the beginning, we decided to take our time with hiring. There are several reasons for this. First off, Midnight Trains is a jog, not a sprint. It’s not a startup that will explode within six months, and then will have to make layoffs. It’s quite the opposite - we have to work with the long-term in mind. The people we work with must be both highly qualified and passionate about their profession. We’re looking for a real connection between us and them. So we always needed our own approach to recruitment.

Adrien Aumont — Taking time to recruit has many advantages for a company like ours. By working with freelancers long-term, we have time to get to know them and vice versa. It’s an opportunity for us to find out whether we can move forward together in the long term - if we can move mountains and live through hardship together. However, this kind of thing can’t be discovered in a few meetings or during a job interview. Not even by interviewing candidates for ten jobs. You have to be in the field together, see each other at work, discuss, debate and face obstacles together. What we’re really looking for is people who are entrepreneurs at heart.

The other reason we decided against recruiting too quickly is because good candidates are hard to find. Let’s not forget that we’re talking about a national market consisting of one single company: the SNCF. Of course, there are rail freight companies or companies parallel to the market, like Eurostar, but there are very few compared to the 130,000-strong workforce of the SNCF. The higher-ups there are often graduates of prestigious science and engineering universities like École Polytechnique, or those who have climbed the ladder internally. These employees are deeply embedded in the SNCF and its culture, and rarely leave to work elsewhere.

Romain Payet — It was with all of this in mind that we started working with Nicolas Bargèles. He was recommended to us by the boss of a large British ROSCO – a rolling stock leasing company – with whom we started talking shortly after the project was launched. According to our contact, Nicolas could bring the industry experience that Adrien and I lacked. Other contacts also pointed us in his direction and we contacted him to try to arrange a meeting.

When we met with Nicolas, we immediately felt his passion for railways, one he’d had since he was a teenager, when he set up a small blog on the sector. Even better, we found out, when speaking with him, that he was already interested in how the night train could be revived. Suffice to say he was pleased by the prospect of working on the project. It didn’t take long to see the immensity of his technical skill. In the world of rail, there are railway production experts who run the trains, experts in path tracing, experts in timetabling, management or even rolling stock and maintenance. Nicolas is an exceptional expert in all of them.

We were so taken by his wisdom and expertise that we offered him several commissions on a freelance basis. The first was to make an inventory of the network on which we planned to launch. It would enable us to choose our first line and establish a plan to develop it. It was a major task, which required a lot of research and analysis. However, five days later, he presented us with an intelligent and thorough dossier. Once we read the document, we had only one request: that he joined us as the first employee and third co-founder of Midnight Trains. It remains to be seen whether such a star will leave behind his job at Eurostar to join a small outfit like ours.

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