Andrea Barthello co-founded ThinkFun Inc. in 1985 with her husband, Bill Ritchie. Under her leadership as COO, the company has grown to become a market leader in STEM puzzles and games in the U.S. and around the world.
She helped create a new category of games under the ThinkFun brand that aimed to challenge the mind, and those games – including beloved titles like Rush Hour, Zingo!, and Gravity Maze – have gone on to win hundreds of awards. She has also been an active member of The Toy Association over the years, serving three terms on the Board of Directors and holding positions on numerous committees. She was honored by the Washington Business Journal as one of the region’s most influential women in 2005.
As Andrea steps away from the company to embark on a whole new adventure, she shared with us some of her favorite memories leading the company over the last 33 years:
Q: What were a few highlights from your time at ThinkFun?
A: There are truly so many, it’s difficult to narrow down. The very first order we received is definitely a highlight – a $50.00 order for our “Hexadecimal puzzle” – one of our first wooden puzzles. Next would be the time I had to negotiate a line of credit on the phone with the bank while I was in labor with our second son (we got the line of credit!). And then, in the early 1990s after 5 long years, finally becoming profitable, followed by four years in a row of being named to the INC. 500.
Another great moment was when we convinced Brookstone to carry three of our puzzles. We’d been trying for five years before we finally got into the store, and after we got in those puzzles became the best selling items they had!
Left: ThinkFun co-founders Bill Ritchie and Andrea Barthello wishing ThinkFun (formerly Binary Arts) much success in 1985. Right: Andrea and Bill wishing Andrea a happy retirement in 2018.
Q: What are some of your favorite ThinkFun games and why?
A: I like the logic games the most - I am not a big game player but get hooked on Rush Hour and TipOver! I think it’s because I can see in my mind how to work backward from the place I am to supposed to go. I love problem solving in any way that it is appealing to me. I also get a big kick out of playing Zingo! with kids - they just love being in charge and show so much confidence!
Q: As you take a step back from ThinkFun, what personal projects are you most looking forward to working on?
A: I look forward to working on my vegetable garden, personal goals related to creativity that I have put on the back burner, and candidly - figuring out the next chapter in my life! The nice thing about taking a step back is that I’m not in any great rush to get everything done.
I am trying hard to say “no” to the many things that have been coming my way, because I like the open and unfilled space to think. I’d like to just enjoy that unfilled space for a bit.
My big “yes” with a smile is becoming a grandmother in June! To me, that is the most exciting next step and I can’t wait to meet that little guy!
Q: What was one of your most challenging moments and what was one of your most exciting moments at ThinkFun?
A: The most challenging moment for me was creating a company from absolutely nothing. Not even a piece of paper! Just having to figure everything out from scratch was big.
The most exciting moments was embracing change. Evolving a company and staying on top of changing environments in terms of the resources we used and the markets we targeted kept me at the edge of my seat.
Q: What are your aspirations for ThinkFun?
A: As ThinkFun settles into being part of Ravensburger Group I hope that every single person at the company will realize the big opportunity they each have to contribute to the success of this new adventure. This in turn will contribute to each person’s professional accomplishments. I believe ThinkFun has a unique opportunity to grow into an even larger player in the hearts and minds of kids, families, and teachers around the world. From as young as 18 months all the way into retirement, ThinkFun products should be a part of everyone’s lives.
Andrea’s spirit will continue to lead the company as she takes a step back to pursue her next great adventure. She ends her time at ThinkFun on a high note, as she was recently inducted into the Toy Industry Hall of Fame and delivered a phenomenal TEDx talk earlier this year:
You can follow Andrea on Twitter @AndreaBarthello, although now that she’ll be spending her time in the garden and with her soon-to-be grandson, we can’t promise she’ll be posting a whole lot!