Sebastian Dettmers is the CEO of Stepstone. He wrote the book “The Great People Shortage.” He has been working with Axel Springer and Stepstone for almost 16 years.
About Stepstone: 4000 FTE from 70 nations. Active business in +30 countries. Working with +150.000 employers worldwide. +100 million applications a year. Stepstone is crushing it! With >𝟭 𝗯𝗶𝗹𝗹𝗶𝗼𝗻 𝗲𝘂𝗿𝗼 𝗼𝗳 𝗿𝗲𝘃𝗲𝗻𝘂𝗲𝘀 in 2022, they have not only set another record year but almost doubled the business in just two years - Matthias Döpfner, CEO Axel Springer, commented at Reuter on this: “a real milestone towards an IPO” and Henry Kravis from KKR said: “We need markets to work right. If we get the markets right, hopefully, we will get there,"
I have known Sebastian for a decade when working at Axel Springer myself. Two years ago, I joined his advisory board supporting him and the team wherever I can. I am in awe of his leadership and what the team is constantly building. As I have always been passionate about connecting people to jobs at a scale I am excited to share this interview as my first.
1. Hi Sebastian, tell me about yourself.
Hi Robin, my name is Sebastian and I am CEO of StepStone, one of the world’s leading digital recruitment platforms. Besides that, I am a father of 3, a watersports lover, and recently also a book author of the German book “Die große Arbeiterlosigkeit” that can be translated into “The Great People Shortage”.
2. I have known Stepstone for a decade and wonder what has changed. Some called it a sales engine. Since you became CEO, it feels like a Silicon Valley Company. What is Stepstone for you, and how do you see the transition going forward?
We are a big digital business, but we try to preserve a startup-mindset. With 4,000 people around the globe working for Stepstone, it is hard to not become overly operationally complex. This is why we constantly ask ourselves this question: Does what we do serve our mission? Are we focused on helping people find jobs and helping companies to find great talent? If not, let’s not do it.We are here to disrupt labor markets. Labor markets are slow and ineffective. Too many people do not feel engaged with their work, too many companies feel they do not have people with the the right skills on board. We will change this and make finding jobs or finding people simpler than ever before.
3. For a decade in job search, everyone was looking for good discovery, personalized job search - the correct matching. We still need to arrive, even having the most advanced ML/AI and graph technology. Why is finding the “right” apartment in Hongkong for next week easy, while finding the “right” job two blocks away is difficult? Will open AI and, e.g., “chat gpt” impact accelerating this now?
Running job marketplaces successfully is hard. It’s hard because it requires understanding of people and their needs, their skills, their personalities as well as finding out what individual users are looking for. With the help of artificial intelligence and machine learning, we match millions of user profiles and jobs every day. Conversational artificial intelligence is the next step on our journey because it helps us to create an almost human-to-human user experience. This is not only driving user engagement, but significantly improving our matchmaking capabilities. On top of that, conversational AI helps us to facilitate interactions between jobseekers and recruiters. One of the key challenges in recruiting is that we do not have instant feedback meaning that jobseekers can for up to four weeks on average to get feedback on a job application. With conversational AI, we can stimulate conversations and significantly reduce feedback time.
4. The job market still needs to be more efficient. 83% of businesses struggle and say they don’t trust the hiring process, and 82% of all skilled workers are open to new jobs. Talent is today's #1 concern for CEOs, with 200Bn recruitment spend and a 1.6 trillion GDP impact from talent marketplaces. Is this mismatch going to be solved? If so, how and when?
That is our goal. We are facing one of the biggest challenges in the 21 st century: the great people shortage. For a long time now, the birth rates in more than a hundred countries are no longer sufficient to keep the population stable. Therefore, hiring the right person for the right job is no longer only a challenge for businesses, but an imperative for economies around the world.
5. You wrote a book Die große Arbeiterlosigkeit. What are the three key takeaways that you have learned? What have you learned since publishing that you would like to add to the book today?
One smart person said to me: publishing a book will change your life. And he was right. I was pleased about the great media coverage my book and the topic of “Great People Shortage” received, of course. But more importantly, it has changed how people think about population trends and created awareness about the fact that we are running out of people. Now it is our job to redefine work and which role humans play in collaboration with machines and algorithms.
6. Some analysts say we are already in a recession, in stagflation, interest rates increasing, Russia/Ukraine war is devastating, we are deglobalizing, banks lack reserves, own too much governmental debt, printing too much money, and more. While at the same time, we are at the lowest unemployment rate in 50 years. There is a lot of power below the surface. Is this a good or bad thing? Are we at the end or the start of it?
Where do you see this going globally, and where do you see Europe in particular? Of course, the current macro-environment is challenging - from an economic and social aspects. But we should not underestimate our ability to adapt. Learning from experience and using that knowledge to chart our path forward is one of our greatest strengths. For the market in which StepStone operates, this means redefining the role of humans play in the labor market: How can we make humans more productive through digitalization and automation? And how can both humans and digital tools evolve by not simply co-existing but interacting.
7. We talked a lot about macroeconomics, given that only some people have a better understanding of connecting it to the labor market. How do you see private markets, startups, and venture capital? What are trends? Do you invest, and if yes, in what?
The disruptive change towards more productivity can only succeed with investments in innovations. However, in Germany in particular, we hesitate far too often. We need to learn to accept failures, to promote new ideas and support entrepreneurs. While the US or Canada have one of the highest start-up rates compared to other industrialized nations, Germany is lagging behind. Yet innovative start-ups are an important driver of our economic development; they stimulate competition, strengthen structural change and stimulate growth. I see two long-term trends that will permanently change our economy. First, there is an ageing society. Demographic change will give a massive boost to the healthcare market. And secondly, there is automation and robotics. The developments here will also change our life and work models. Looking at the market in which StepStone operates, this means that recruiting processes will also become faster and better. And that is another reason why it is worth watching the market for tech companies in general, but digital job platforms in particular.
My personal investment focus follows those megatrends: automation and robotics, businesses focused on an aging society, and JobTech, of course.