Kevin Lehtiniitty (’08) found he had a knack for entrepreneurship at a young age, and he hasn’t stopped in his pursuit of business success.
“When I left Sycamore, I took a lot of the things that I had learned, and I actually started a software company. That company was called TINITT, and that's what I did through Brebeuf and through college.” As the founder & CEO of TINITT, Kevin created iPhone applications that saw more than one million downloads from the App Store. He also designed business strategies for medium-sized businesses. “One of my mentors told me that there are two things that really matter to someone: their physical health and their financial health. I've always wanted to really make an impact, and I thought that maybe if the physical health wasn't my area, financial health could be interesting.” He is a young but seasoned product manager and entrepreneur with almost a decade of experience in creating web and mobile ventures. He’s been honored by being selected as a Thiel 20 Under 20 Community Member and was honored in the Technology and Management International Business Plan Competition in 2015. He’s also earned Special Award for Outstanding Leadership and Innovation. Currently, Kevin is the Director of Product Management at Prime Trust in Las Vegas.
As Lehtiniitty worked his way through college at the University of Illinois, he continued to glean information and insight about business from professors and other business people, even as he ran his own company on the side. He learned that it isn’t always the brightest - though that certainly helps - person who finds success. “It's going to sound like a cliché, but tenacity would be one of the most important traits to possess, learning to keep going and keep fighting for what you think is right,” he says. “When you walk into a meeting and everybody is three times older than you are, you've got a tendency not to get taken very seriously.” In his late teens, and now early 20’s, tenacity, when it comes to being heard, is a trait that Kevin values. “There's something to be said for learning how to get your point across and learning how to be heard when people (want to) dismiss you because of your age.”
Rarely does a conversation with a Sycamore alum not lead back to trying to understand exactly what it is that Sycamore did for them, and how the years at Sycamore helped as they headed to high school, college, and beyond. “I think Sycamore, quite honestly, was one of the hardest academic programs I've been through,” he says. “I went from Sycamore to Brebeuf, which is obviously a very challenging school, to Illinois, an engineering school with a very challenging workload. Sycamore was, at the time, tougher and more strenuous than the workload at the other two. When you're a kid and you're doing homework, you absolutely hate it. But looking back, there are times we'll all spend 18 to 20 hours in the office because a product has to launch and a lot of that work ethic I think for me, started at Sycamore. There weren't really any points for effort, if that makes sense. I think it was very much like real life.”
Lehtiniitty, who moved into the entrepreneurship part of his life quickly once he hit college, was a science guy at Sycamore. He reflects on a subject that showed him how science was to become a guidepost for many of the challenges that came after for him. “The problem-solving aspect is central to not only what I do, but any job really. After school, I was a big part of Science Olympiad. That was always my favorite thing and I credit Sycamore and Mr. Schuth with a lot,” he says. “Maybe you have to create some contraption. Maybe it is an airplane or a bridge or it's a college savings trust application. The skill set is the same - you've got challenges and you've got to create something to solve those challenges. Science Olympiad is really what started me down that path of some more of the critical thinking elements.” He still remembers those science lessons today. “If I go to my bosses and I say, ‘Well, I tried really hard.’ that's not what matters to them,” he continues. “I think Sycamore was the same way. There were a lot of resources for help that you could get if you needed it. But you couldn't come in the next day with a half-empty assignment and say, ‘Well, I tried really hard, but I just got kind of tired.’ That wasn't an option. So now at the office, I've got that same drive that was instilled at Sycamore. You've got to get it done, and you've got to get it done right.”