Erik Backlund: from Sportsbook to CPO

Thu, 19 Nov, 2020

Erik Backlund can lean back on more than 15 years at Kindred Group, but he certainly doesn’t lean back when it comes to striving forward. After overseeing Kindred Group’s Sportsbook for more than 10 years, he was appointed Chief Product Officer (CPO) this October. We had the opportunity to catch Erik during this very busy period, to ask him how it feels to take the step from Sportsbook to Product, and how a strong focus on product control and differentiation can help deliver strong results.

Erik, firstly, congratulations on a very exciting promotion! Going from Head of Sportsbook to Chief Product Officer, how does that feel and what is different?

Thank you! It’s been a different and challenging year due to Covid, both for businesses and people. For me personally, it is a tremendously exciting role to take on at a very interesting time for Kindred. Even though I have been working with sports betting and the sportsbook product for over 15 years, it doesn’t mean you’re not involved with other parts of the business such as the overall product portfolio or the commercial area. So, I was already familiar with the role. But I guess, the difference is the level of decisions and Group strategy involvement that you step up to. I think it’s an interesting period to do that, as there is a lot of change in the industry, both, with the US opening up and the changing landscape across Europe.

What would you say are the milestones during your career, so far, at Kindred?

A: Well, hopefully, I haven´t peaked yet. But the work with re-building the Kindred Sportsbook Team post-Kambi separation was one. We needed to find an identity for Unibet, and I think we managed that transition very well. We also acquired many businesses during the last decade or so, such as 32Red, Stan James, Betchoice in Australia and Eurosport.bet in France. The focus has also been on integrating these from an organisation and product perspectives. I also must mention our in-house proprietary Racing platform, which has shown immense growth over the past few years, of which we are very proud of.

It is said that a strong focus on product differentiation can help deliver strong results. What is your take on that?

I believe that if you don't have that control on the front-end experience, you might not deliver on your brand promise or on what's important for the customer. I think that's the key focus when it comes to product control. There is so much more to the front-end than what meets the customer's eye. Hence the big focus on data insight and building underlying capabilities over the past years, to enable us to deliver a personalised and relevant user experience. 

There is a huge interest regarding the US. What is the success factor?

To see the customer for who they are. US customers differ a lot from the ones in Europe and what we are traditionally used to. The demands are different as well as the expectations, and it’s important to understand that in order to offer a great product and experience. Another key success factor is to build the right strategic and commercial partnerships, of which we have had a good experience in Europe and Australia. The Philadelphia Eagles partnership is one great example. From a product perspective, it has been backed up by the launch of the Unibet Philadelphia Eagles blackjack game, and the early customer uptake has been very good since launch. Eagles slot game to follow, so watch this space!  

The US will grow into a massive market as more states open up for online gambling. Even though we are seeing all the big players enter the market through various joint ventures and partnerships, it’s important to point out that the American pie is massive, as per everything American. We just need to make sure we get a big slice of it.

So, for our last question – if you were to look into your crystal ball. What will it show?

Being active in as many markets as we are is a challenge, but it’s a fun one.  We need to ensure that we are compliant, innovative and are putting product and customer at the forefront of Kindred across our different brands – at all times. For the time ahead, we aim to continue our rapid growth in the UK and Australia and sustain our position in Western Europe and the Nordics. And of course, find our way in the US market. As I said, a true challenge, but with the talented team we have at Kindred, we are definitely in a position to deliver on our strategic intent to become the number 1 operator across all our markets. 

EGR Global published an in-depth interview with Erik. You can read it here.