Romain Payet — It didn’t take long for Nicolas’ mind to change. Three days after we proposed that he join Midnight Trains, he announced he would be leaving Eurostar to join us, despite all the professional risks it holds. Hiring him is a huge relief for us, and marks the end of a long search.
One of the main objectives of our first round of fundraising was to pay for the recruitment of a new founder; someone who had strong expertise in the railway industry. It would enable us to overcome technical challenges quicker, but also dodge a number of pitfalls within the sector, and save even more time. But this person couldn’t be simply a technician, or even a top manager. We needed someone who could manage our overall strategic vision and be willing to get their hands dirty.
We got two headhunters on the mission of finding us a rare gem. Unfortunately, even with their help, plus the candidates who’d put themselves forward, things took a long time. We met a lot of brilliant people, with solid backgrounds and impressive skill sets. But nothing came of it. Ours was a tall order: they needed a certain “seniority” — ten or 15 years of experience — and to be close to the field and operations.
However, in the big rail companies, promising employees quickly climb the ladder to management. Even those who remain on the operational side – managing large stations, for example – are heading up teams of two or three hundred people. They’re gifted managers and capable of seeing the big picture, but are rarely able to start a train themselves. Apart from Nicolas who, as we said last week, came to us by word of mouth. He certainly wears all the hats we will need.
Adrien Aumont — Now you know Nicolas is part of the team, it's time to tell you a little more about his career and what makes him the rare gem we needed. First of all, his passion for rail travel runs deep - he started a railway blog when he was just a teenager after all. Also still a teenager, he took a train in southwestern France and on the journey, asked to see the engine. While he was with the driver, a big SNCF boss tapped on the window and then jumped on board. After meeting this train-mad teenager, he offered him an internship in the head office, even before he was old enough to really work.
Nicolas then graduated from an engineering school before joining Réseau Ferré de France (which owned and maintained the French national railway network from 1997 to 2014). It was while working there that his eyes were opened to the railway world, and he discovered, from the inside, what it’s like to manage such a large land infrastructure. Rather than take another position at the SNCF, he went to Thello which was still a joint venture between the French incumbent operator and Trenitalia, its transalpine equivalent. In this office, Nicolas worked specifically on the Nice-Milan line, then moved to Eurostar. Nicolas' career path is almost like it was designed for Midnight Trains.
He’s always had an adventurous, entrepreneurial spirit, and had been looking to get involved with new railway experiments and experiences. He’s worked in the private sector, cross-border train services and in the world of startups. His curiosity has enabled him to acquire deep mastery of many technical fields. In addition to having a general strategic vision of the sector, he’s able to go deep into the details of subjects like network management, rolling stock, signalling and air conditioning systems. Not to mention the fact that he speaks many languages and enjoys exploring the cultures of the countries he travels to.
In short, it made sense that he was our first hire, and one that will deeply challenge the Midnight Trains vision.