50 Fastest Growing Private Companies to Watch 2016

Changing dry patches into Wonderlands: Thinkwell Group


Creating custom, content-driven experiences for companies and brands in the physical world.’

Thinkwell is a full-service design firm specializing in the master planning and creation of large-scale destinations, resorts, theme parks, museums/exhibits, and live shows and attractions. Thinkwell’s innovative approach to concept development, experience design, project management and production comes from over 15 years of creating engaging experiences and unique storytelling environments for clients all over the world. Thinkwell was founded in 2001. It is headquartered at Los Angeles, with offices in Beijing, and Abu Dhabi.
In Conversation with the Wizards

Why was the company set up? How did you select the vertical and decide to be a part of the global platform?
The founders of Thinkwell were working together on theme park projects for Universal Studios Recreation Group when the corporate decision was made to relocate the Los Angeles-based Universal Creative group to Orlando. Instead of uprooting and relocating, they decided to open up a boutique entertainment design studio to facilitate the development of theme park attractions, live shows, and events. Shortly after opening in one of the owner’s garages, the tragedy of 9/11 happened and most projects in our industry immediately came to a halt. Since Thinkwell was already at “rock bottom” having just started the company, we were able to weather the economic climate and slowly build a portfolio while at the same time we saw established competition having to restructure and make major cuts due to the loss of active projects. It has been slow and steady growth ever since.

Tell us about your first product that was launched.
One of our first major projects was “The Jurassic Park Institute Tour”, a 50,000 square foot touring attraction based on the Jurassic Park film franchise. This touring walk-thru educational attraction featured 26 lifesize animatronic dinosaurs and 30 actors as scientists from InGen, the fictitious genetics company behind “Jurassic Park,” guiding visitors in an exploration based in the science of paleontology and contemporary dinosaur discoveries while delivering the sense of wonder and adventure of the Jurassic Park brand.

How successful was your first project roll on? Share the experience.
It was a challenging project in that we had to design, produce and open the attraction in Japan in a little over six months. As a young company, we learned the value of being nimble and quick. After it opened, the attraction had over 500,000 visitors in its first location in six months and was indeed seen as a success.

What kind of mixed responses have you received from your consumers over the years? How have they motivated you to shape your offerings/grow the company?
Thinkwell projects have entertained, educated, inspired and awed more than 350 million people around the world since our founding in 2001. That’s a lot to be proud of. We don’t just make theme park rides and museum exhibits—we give families a special day out, a respite from their busy lives, and a chance to connect with friends. Their growing sophistication as consumers, technology users, and world travelers make us work harder at what we do every day. Those changing demands have caused us to expand into media production, interactive design, and more. Those audiences, no matter where they go, want better and better experiences.

What do you feel are the reasons behind your consistent growth as an organization?
We have been able to migrate over the years from being “entertainment designers” to “experience designers” through the basic understanding that in any of our projects we focus on connect a guest/user with a brand through engagement in the physical world. We design things that people do socially together in the real word. That can be a theme park attraction, a presidential library, an urban entertainment center, or a spectacular live event. Regardless of our digital lives, people will search for these resonant social experiences to share.

Where do you see you and your company a couple of years from now?
After 15 years in business, we are now seeing the opportunity to create, own and operate some of our own entertainment experiences and attractions to offer to the international market. In the next 5years, we will continue to focus on developing some of our own products to have some residual ownership opportunities.

Meet the Wizards

Joe Zenas, CEO: As the Chief Executive Officer, Joe Zenas is responsible for leading the direction of the company as well as new growth opportunities, corporate strategies, strategic alliances and intellectual property partnerships. From the magical world of Harry Potter to the historical Smithsonian Institution, Joe’s leadership has been instrumental in building Thinkwell Group’s reputation for masterfully dealing with some of the world’s most cherished brands and intellectual properties.

Craig Hanna, CCO: As the Chief Creative Officer, Craig Hanna serves as the creative vision and conscience for all the company’s projects and guides the creative development of each project from inception to opening day. Craig has 25+ years of experience leading creative development for theme parks, museums, live entertainment, and destination resorts around the world. Overseeing all creative projects for Thinkwell, some project highlights include: Warner Bros Studio Tour London: The Making of Harry Potter, Ski Dubai, Expo 2020, and Ferrari World Abu Dhabi.

Francois Bergeron, COO: As Chief Operations Officer for Thinkwell, François is responsible for overseeing the financial well-being of the company, including providing daily oversight of the company’s operating groups and managing investor relations. Prior to the founding of Thinkwell and since, he has maintained a decades-long relationship with Cirque du Soleil as Sound Designer for numerous productions.

“Large or small. Epic or intimate. Purely entertaining or extraordinarily educational. Whatever the project, we begin everything with our time-tested process.”