excellent founders Sam and Jenny in front of yellow wall

Investment Notes: Excellent

Date Published:
September 13, 2022

A company is simply a group of people.

A great company is a team of thriving, engaged people, enabled to do their life’s work.

The difference is culture. 

At Blackbird, culture is our religion. We’ve invested in many outstanding founders creating a fairer, happier, more engaged future of work: from Culture Amp, to Applied, and more recently Multitudes and The Mintable.

Our investment in the pre-seed round of Excellent is the next chapter in this story. 

Excellent was born in early 2021 as Employee Experience Design School (EXDS) an on-demand course that teaches design thinking methodologies for building great workplaces. 

Only a few months’ in, co-founder Samantha (Sam) Gadd realised the impact EXDS was having on members:

  • “My role title and scope has completely changed after joining EXDS”
  • “EXDS was one of the best things that ever happened to me”
  • “I've learned more in the last few months than I have in my entire career”

Now, she is building Excellent: the place that “people people” go to learn Employee Experience design, access the tools and templates they need to build culture in their workplaces, and learn from leaders in this emerging field, globally. 

Companies are just people.

EX Design is an emerging discipline which will be as important as Customer Experience Design and User Experience Design.

EX rests on the idea that employees represent one of the greatest sources of performance potential in an organisation, and great employee experiences inspire people to perform.

Similar to CX and UX, EX is about ensuring employees constantly get new and meaningful value out of their relationship with work, so that they are retained, developed, and don’t churn to other opportunities. 

Only with great EX can you deliver great CX and UX, and ultimately business performance.

EX is a mindset shift from treating employees as resources, to treating them as scarce, valuable assets to be fostered.

No longer just the province of HR, managers have an increasing role in ensuring great EX, and they are potential EX designers too.

In short: EX Design is not just for HR, but for people leaders who want to attract and retain the best talent: that is, everyone. 

Great  people experiences attract great people.

In ten years’ time, EX will be a global industry. Business and people leaders will see EX as a critical business skill.

This growth will have been stimulated by Excellent’s community of EX professionals and advocates, brought together and armed with the EX design capability, tools and networks to transform employee experience in their own organisations.

The commercial outcomes of this will be tangible: employees who have been involved in designing their experience, and feel a greater sense of wellbeing and connection, will be measurably more productive. They will remain in their roles for longer. Those companies will attract an unfair share of the best talent.

EX will become known for being more critical to the growth and performance of business than HR ever was. The link between great employee experience and better business performance will be widely understood. 

An EXcellent idea.

Today: professionals who want to learn and do EX design have no idea what ‘best practice’ is and have nowhere to turn for trusted guidance. 

They’re left googling TED Talks, Medium blogs, or Netflix’s culture deck, but without a way of taking those pieces of inspiration and translating them to their own businesses. Or they pay thousands for University-delivered Design Thinking qualifications that only apply by analogy to the core problem of creating delightful employee experiences.

Right now, firms who believe in EX being a critical business capability find it impossible to source great EX design talent.

And, while there is plenty of software to collect data on what’s happening within an organisation (like Culture Amp!), there’s less available to support leaders in actually acting on that data to co-design better employee experiences with their teams.

Enter, Excellent.

Excellent makes it easy for organisations and leaders to design experiences with employees:

  • The Excellent community provides courses in design thinking for EX, masterclass content, and the opportunity to connect with groups of like minded designers.
  • For small organisations, Excellent is a place to connect with consultants and advisors to bring EX initiatives to life.
  • EX designers and consultants can contribute ideas, projects and templates to Excellent, and achieve recognition as an EX Leader.
Excellent founders Sam (L) and Jenny (R)
Meet Sam and Jenny

Excellent’s CEO and co-founder Sam is obsessed with improving people’s work lives.

Her first act was founding and scaling Humankind, an EX-design-as-a-service firm that applies human-centred design approaches to clients’ people problems. Over 10 years, Sam scaled Humankind and also founded, ran, and sold a talent network called Kin

Earlier this year she handed Humankind over to a new CEO and went full time at Excellent.

And, she joined forces with Excellent’s Chief Growth Officer and co-founder Jenny: an unstoppable strategic leader who previously scaled marketplace technology and ed tech platform Drumfit, and was even once an NFL pro cheerleader for the Atlanta Falcon. Jenny is based in Austin, Texas. 

Jenny and Sam believe Excellent is the category-defining platform for leaders to become EX design pros, and engage with others in the EX design community.

We are delighted to be leading their pre-Seed round to supercharge Excellent as it blossoms into a beautiful, scalable EX design, education and collaboration platform, enabling great employee experiences everywhere.