1. Not readily letting go of, giving up, or separated from an object that one holds, a position, or a principle: “a tenacious grip”.
  2. Not easily dispelled or discouraged; persisting in existence or in a course of action.

When I was a entrepreneur I’d pursue a goal relentlessly. Everything in between me and my goal was simply an obstacle that needed to be removed.

This week I had another reminder of what it was like.

Plenty of Time
I was speaking at the National Governors Conference in Williamsburg Virginia and my talk ended Sunday at noon.  I knew I had to be in Chicago at 9:30Am Monday for a Congressional hearing (I was the lead witness) so I made sure I was on the next to last plane out of Richmond (just in case the last one got cancelled.)

My wife and I got to the airport for our 4:45pm plane and found it was delayed to 6pm. Ok, no problem. Oops now it’s delayed until 7:30pm.  Hmm, the last plane out looks like it’s leaving on-time at 8pm – can I get on that?  No, sold out.  So we sit around and watch our plane get delayed to 8pm, then 9pm then 10pm, then cancelled. Oh, oh this is looking a bit tight, but there’s a 6am from Richmond to Chicago. No problem. If we can get on that I can still make the hearing. The nice smiling United agent says “oh that’s sold out as well. Now I’m getting a bit concerned, “Well how about the American Airlines 6am?” “Sold out” she replied. The next flight is at 8am.” Ok put me on that one.  “Oh that’s sold out as well.”

We Have a Problem
I need to be in downtown Chicago by 9:30am.  Period.

So I ask, “where’s the nearest airport that has a 6am flight to Chicago?” Oh, that’s Dulles airport in Washington.”Ok, how far is that?” 120 miles.

We head back to the car rental booth, rent our second car of the day and head to Washington in pouring rain and drive in bumper to bumper traffic, crawling to our next airport. Three hours later we check into the airport hotel at 1:30am assured that all we needed to do is get 3 hours sleep and United would whisk  us on the way to Chicago.

Waking up at 4:15am I glance at my email and couldn’t believe it – United canceled our 6am from Dulles. The next flight they had would get us into Chicago at 10am – too late to testify in front of Congress.  It looked like there was simply no way to get where we needed to go.

My first instinct was to give up. Screw it. I tried hard, failed due to circumstances beyond my control.  Why don’t we just go back to bed and get a good nights sleep.

That thought lasted all of 30 seconds.

We quickly realized that Washington has two airports – the other one, National was 30 miles away. I looked up the flight schedule and realized that there was a 6am and 7am leaving from National. I booked the 7am online not believing we could make the earlier 6am flight.

The only problem is that there weren’t any taxi’s to be found at 4:30 in the morning – in front of the hotel or on Uber.  So I hiked over to the main road and flagged one down and had him drive me back to the hotel, pick up my wife and luggage and continued our adventure.

We got to Washington National Airport at 5am and walked directly into the longest security line I’ve seen in 10 years. Well, at least we can make the 7am plane (the one we’re ticketed on) and barely make the congressional hearing.

Getting through security the first gate we pass is the 6am for Chicago and they’re in the process of closing the door.  “Any chance you have any seats left?”  Oh, we have two seats in the back of the plane but we don’t have time to re-ticket you.

Trying to remember my reality distortion field skills from my entrepreneurial days I convinced her to let us on.

We made it to Chicago.  I actually got to sleep in our hotel for 45 minutes before the Congressional Field hearing.

Then I got to share this:

Lessons Learned

  • Your personal life and career will be full of things that block your way or hinder progress
  • Keep your eyes on the prize, not the obstacles
  • Remove obstacles one at a time
  • There’s almost always a path to your goal
  • Never, never  never give up

Listen to the post here: Download the Podcast here

48 Responses

  1. Thank you for sharing…R

  2. Steve that’s a very inspiring story! I just have to ask, given I’ve had similar airline dustups, and the cities you mention are UA hubs–were you flying United? They are kings of making you think you have a chance in hell at getting to your destination somewhat on time, but hour by hour you learn it won’t happen.

    Anyway, glad you made the hearing, and hoping that perhaps adrenaline kept you alert.

    • Yes, United is the U.S. airlines 21st century version of Aeroflot under the Soviet Union.

  3. National is across the Potomac from DC. Dulles is 30 miles out in VA. Another alternative is Baltimore.

  4. Wow, that’s tenacity alright! Here’s hoping I can be as focused and persistent as that in getting our venture off the ground.

  5. Great going Steve! Your focus and determination are a real inspiration. Removing challenges and obstacles one at a time and keeping our eyes on our goals – simple but powerful words. Thanks

  6. Great story, Steve. Glad my great city of Washington treated you so well 🙂 Thanks for this encouraging post — am living by this mantra every day.

  7. Great story, Steve. Glad to hear my great city of Washington treated you so well 🙂 Living by this mantra of ‘never give up’ every day…

  8. Sometimes it’s really strange how serendipity acts. Precisly today was the day I needed this type of advice.

    Probably you, Mr Blank, heard this a thousand times before but your post has been really helpful.

    Thanks for sharing your wisdom and experience with us.

    Perseverantia omnia vincit.

  9. That paper was really worth all the effort behind the scenes to get there. These are crucial times when only those with focus and determination will get anything done (and make any money). I’d register the story incase there’s a chance of claiming the movie rights. “No Excuses Be There”. Thanks also for your inspiring words at StartupBootcamp Amsterdam back on July 6th. Your thoughts on rethinking startups rang true to the industry I am working in – media. Europe really has to start working at 160% if it has a hope of competing on a global scale.

  10. Thank you Steve, shed some light and more energy to my path in creating a new game company from the scratch!

  11. That’s well done! Steve, are you able to share a vector version of the timeline diagram on page 12? I’d like that for my wall. 🙂

  12. Steve (or anyone else capable), could you explain what reality distortion field skills are and give a few examples? Thanks.


  13. HI Steve:
    Goos work! I have my own war stories such as taking over 24 hours in a snow blizzard trying to get to Newark from Boston only to find that at 11pm which is when I arrived, for a Directors meeting the next morning only to find that for the first time in history the meeting was cancelled.

  14. Steve, this is the first post i’ve ever read on your blog. I came across it after reading ”The Lean Startup.” I loved it! I’m an entrepreneur too (check Kapost.com) and can relate to the message – and I lived in DC for 5 years and understand the airline madness.

    Thanks for posting and i’ll be here reading future articles.

  15. Nice post. Unfortunately Keeping your eyes on the prize undermines goal pursuit as shown my the research here:



  16. What a great story! Thank you for sharing. I so relate to this. Tenacious to a fault. But sometimes, it makes all the difference. Truly.

    Glad you made your hearing. Hope you slept like a log afterward.

  17. This is amazing Steve – how did you keep your calm?

    • Focus on the goal not the obstacles. The obstacles are just problems to solve – one at a time.

  18. Thanks for adding a new word to my vocabulary as it happens to relate to how I am trying to change the world with the 15,128 Invention Ideas I came up with from within horrible places. Keep up with the great work that you do and I hope one day that I become someone who you would like to meet, Until then keep a eye out for me and my Inventions…

    Bill Chrouch

  19. “Solve a problem one at the time” and first in first out…great lesson Steve….i recognize my personal life 😉 Paolo Marenco

  20. Yes, I believe, if you have a SET GOAL established in your mind, YOU will definitely achieve it. No doubt on this. A. P. Panda.

  21. The more you can do, the more you get. It seems to work with obstacles as well. The more you can relentlessly remove them, the more you get 🙂

  22. […] Blank recently wrote an article on Tenacity and includes his statement at the Congressional Hearing regarding […]

  23. A Perfectly Timed “Boost of Encourage”! Thanks!

  24. Winston Churchill quotes

    “If you’re going through hell, keep going.”

    “Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never–in nothing, great or small, large or petty–never give in, except to convictions of honor and good sense.”

  25. Steve,

    As part of the Chicago Lean Startup Circle and Challenge, I have read a good amount of your work. The things that my partner and I have learned from you, especially the drive to succeed, is what allowed us to work 9am to 3am, 7 days a week pursuing a lean startup while both studying for the IL Bar exam. Hope you had a great stay in Chicago! The city has definitely adopted your methodology!

  26. Steve, thank you so much for this inspirational post! Actually, it reminded me an IMHO tenacity-themed story from the academic stage of my life, and it was also strongly connected to the NSF (National Science Foundation). TL;DR version – tenacity prevails over any obstacles, once you focus on the goal, ignore naysayers and solve any arising problems – one at a time.

    It happened around 10 years ago, in the morning of Friday, November 5th . I’ve just received my PhD certificate in Applied Maths that week and was deciding what should I do next.
    A senior colleague of mine asked for my help with editing some document in English that mentioned an international interdisciplinary NSF Award. I immediately looked it up found that researchers from around the globe in any area and within five years of completing their PhD are eligible, and decided that I also would like to be nominated (and deserve to, since I was very proud of the quality of research, my recently published papers &PhD Thesis).

    My colleague told me that there was a deadline in FOUR working days (Nov 13th, while next Monday was a holiday in Russia) for sending the application out of US, and there was no way that within this tiny timeframe I could
    1) find a prominent US-based Professor, that is eager and able to nominee me
    2) create a sophisticated research plan ( for evaluation by four NSF experts, and implementation in case my nomination is successful),
    3) PLUS collect four reference letters and huge volume of necessary paperwork (English versions of CV, extended abstract of the whole thesis and key peer-reviewed papers), as well as extra forms,
    4) PLUS transfer it all, in paper form to US (the fastest Express mail from Russia to US at that time took 2-3 days),
    5) PLUS convince the US side to complete another large chunk paperwork.
    I said nothing aloud, but whispered to myself “WATCH ME”!)

    Anyways, by Nov 10th (within two working days) I was able to complete items 1), 2) and 3), plus arranged that item 5) will be taken care of by a kind assistant of US Professor who will be out of town. I’ve put a huge (~4 pounds of paper) shipment through TNT express mail, crossed my fingers and started to track the shipment online.
    The shipment was going fast and was scheduled to arrive to its destination in LA in the early morning of Friday, the 13th of November (=evening in Europe or Russia). Good news – it was tracked at TNT shipping station at 6 am, then it was in the process of delivery… and then there was a status like “unrecoverable delivery error”. I was shocked, double-checked everything, and found out, that the Professor has indicated a completely wrong address of himself, and I just copied it without checking.

    The assistant who was to take care of the sending application to NSF was not available by the phone, but in her previous letter she warned me, that to make it in time she needs the docs by 1PM, to obtain necessary signatures from the officials in the University of Southern California (which was to host me in case I were awarded and become an NSF Fellow).

    I was able to recover the proper address, but since there was only 1-2 hours left I figured that emails wouldn’t cut it in time and decided that I just need to get a cell phone of the person in charge of LA TNT delivery office (this or any other contact info was not available online). So I started to call TNT offices to get this number. Another complication limiting the available time was that in the middle of all it I’ve got a call from a hospital where my sister was at that time, I was told that she is expected to give birth in around 2-3 hours, and earlier I’ve promised to be there to support her.

    The business hours in the TNT European HQ were over, but I was able to reach TNT HQ in Texas, and distort reality a bit, convincing the local Head of TNT services to connect me to the proper person in LA, and convincing the LA delivery person to delay delivering all other shipments and take care of our shipment first! And bingo, we made everything just in time (including my visit and support on my sister and me nephew who was born on that day)!
    There goes Friday the 13th, delivered properly)

    When I told a few of my friends these details, they were laughing out loud and saying: you did it all, ONLY to be nominated for an award, where hundreds (around seven hundred that year if I recall correctly) are nominated for 10-15 awards? First (and more serious) part of my response was quoting Wayne Gretzky (You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take), and secondly I told everyone that my guts tell me that after all these adventures there could be no other outcome other than getting that award.

    Surely, early next spring I got an email from LA where I was asked by the USC Professor to open the bottle of the best Vodka I can fetch, because I got the award (as the only one representing Russia, and the only one in the area related to Math and Computer Sciences that year)!

    • Dmitry,

      Your story is much better than mine!


      • Steve, thank you, you’re too kind! By the way, I am sure that the presentation you were able to deliver after your adventures on the way also results in the outcomes you desire!

        I hope that my story, among all, illustrates, that people working in academics are NOT alien to many entrepreneurial qualities, and, therefore, should be often able to extract great value from the I-Corps program you’ve presented in Chicago. While I’m at it, IMO the following requirements are necessary for success BOTH in academic research and startups:
        1) Formulating a worthy original and innovative idea,
        2) Executing it skillfully to demonstrate that it actually works, and
        3) Selling it convincingly to others.
        Of course, I’ll be very glad to briefly meet over a coffee next time you’d be visiting Moscow (and arrange it e.g. via LinkedIn), or next time I’ll be in the Valley.

        Tenaciously yours,

  27. Hi Steve,

    How was your presentation taken? When will you/we find out if your recommendations will be implemented?


  28. This is truly inspiring, Steve! If we all approached our work with the same tenacity that you approached this flight the business world wouldn’t be looking at statistics like this from the book “A Bias for Action”: “Only 10% of managers truly act purposefully to get the most important work accomplished. Most waste time by procrastinating, becoming emotionally detached, and distracting themselves with busywork.”

  29. […] Steve tells the rather alarming story about getting to Chicago from Williamsburg, Virginia. He also shares a very interesting idea – scientists need training to learn how to shoehorn their scientific discoveries into viable business models. […]

  30. True that, just as William Churchill said: Never give in–never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense.

  31. […] leí el último post de Steve Blank, a diferencia de los anteriores, Steve aprovecha una vivencia personal para poner de […]

  32. Inspirational as always! One nit to pick in the testimony:

    “Unlike a traditional incubator where a successful outcome is an angel or venture-funded startup…”

    I think if you ask the folks at the National Business Incubator Association (www.nbia.org) about how successful outcomes are measured, equity investing is just one measure, and not always the most important one. Here in Maine the incubators have been assessed (along with other state programs) on many measures including grant funding, equity, debt, and patents applied for – but the #1 measure of success is jobs created.

    Since private equity has a low percentage share among successful startups here, and we have an amazing program at the Maine Technology institute for grants and “development loans,” and we teach the 100 top bootstrapping techniques, we have many successes that don’t end up as angel or VC deals.

  33. Well said Steve. Success as well as survival pivots on the determination to never, ever give up or accept no as an answer in pursuit of a virtue. You also sought out alternatives that were not readily apparent. Bravo & Fight On!

  34. Steve,
    You get the all time award for tenacious travel. I had some similar, but less successful attempts to get on flights during the snowmaggeden event in DC a few years ago. Missed a flight by minutes out of Regan, tried for others, jammed to Dulles – more storms. Ended up at a Dulles airport hotel (instead of my beloved Phoenix Park Hotel above a pub) for 3 (or 4?) more nights. Wrote a lot of reports from my hotel room.

  35. Hi Steve,
    How timely your story is! I’m using it in a presentation I’m giving to 8th Graders tomorrow. I recently told my “Guatemalan Sign Language” story to some nonprofit board members. To make a very long story short, I hunted down and bought 3 rare sign language books – speaking neither Mayan, Spanish, nor sign language – traveling over 3 days and two cities in Guatemala, for a 6 year old girl who happen to be deaf.

    If the members of Congress you presented to were worth the seats they were sitting on, they got the importance of the work you and NSF do.

    – Albert

  36. […] Steve, for reminding  these lessons to someone who has set off for an eternal journey of entrepreneurship. A journey where my idea […]

  37. […] Submitted by Steve Blank, a brilliant entrepreneur, Harvard & Stanford Professor, and overall excellent human being. You can view the original post here […]

  38. the best part of this story is that you didn’t do this by yourself but with your wife! it is easy to relentlessly pursue a goal by yourself, but much harder when you need to consider the needs of other people.

  39. […] July I thought I had set the record for tenacity in my age group. Go ahead and take a moment to read the post, it’s short. I reminded […]

  40. Steve, well said. If one expects to succeed as an entrepreneur one had better hope to be born with the tenacity gene dominant. I recall a trip to the bay area to meet an angel investor back in late 1999. The short version: My flight from Seattle to Oakland (United Airlines i believe) was cancelled and no others were available on any airline that morning to SFO or Oakland (meeting was at his home near Berkeley). Contrary to popular believe frequent flying is no fun and the frequent flyer miles don’t compensate much when you don’t have time to vacation and the last thing you want to do when you do take time off is get on another plane. The relationships you develop do matter however. A short conversation with the gal behind the United 1k desk had me on a ‘full’ flight to San Jose (another story in and of itself, but they offered another passenger who was already seated a free ticket to give up their seat). That plane however developed mechanical problems and was diverted to Portland (karma?). A call to the same United gal in Seattle had me on another flight (Alaska Air?) to San Jose. I kept the investor up to speed as each obstacle was overcome. A convention in San Francisco had consumed ALL of the rental cars at the San Jose airport – NOT ONE rental car available! A short cab ride (no Uber back then) to the nearest U-haul to rent a truck solved that problem. I called the investor to let him know my ETA. The first words out if his mouth were: “your tenacity is admirable, i would have turned around hours ago”. We earned his confidence… and his check.

    • Rob,

      Sounds like you have the better story so far.

      Anyone else have their own tenacity stories??


  41. The story was good… what you shared was historic. Thank you for all your hard work. You and Bob are both an inspiration.

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