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Steve Blank on Being Tenacious

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Steve Blank on Being TenaciousEditor's Note: A version of this article previously appeared at

Adjective: 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. - Dictionary

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.

I was speaking at the National Governors Conference in Williamsburg, Va., and my talk ended Sunday at noon. I knew I had to be in at 9:30 a.m. 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 canceled).

My wife and I got to the airport for our 4:45 p.m. plane and found it was delayed to 6 p.m. Ok, no problem. Oops now it’s delayed until 7:30 p.m. Hmm, the last plane out looks like it’s leaving on time at 8 p.m. – can I get on that? No, sold out. So we sit around and watch our plane get delayed to 8 p.m., then 9 p.m. then 10 p.m, then canceled. Oh, oh this is looking a bit tight, but there’s a 6 a.m. 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 6 a.m.?” “Sold out,” she replied. The next flight is at 8 a.m.” OK, put me on that one. ”Oh, that’s sold out as well.”

Problem: I need to be in downtown Chicago by 9:30 a.m. Period.

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

We head back to the 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 1:30 a.m. 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 4:15 a.m. I glance at my email and couldn’t believe it – United canceled our 6 a.m. from Dulles. The next flight they had would get us into Chicago at 10 a.m. – 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 night's 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 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. leaving from National. I booked the 7 a.m. online not believing we could make the earlier 6 a.m. flight.

The only problem is that there weren’t any taxis 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 5 a.m. and walked directly into the longest security line I’ve seen in 10 years. Well, at least we can make the 7 a.m. plane (the one we’re ticketed on) and barely make the congressional hearing.

Getting through security, the first gate we pass is the 6 a.m. for Chicago -- and they’re in the process of closing the door. I ask, "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 -- my thoughts on the benefits of the National Science Foundation's Innovation Corps program to the U.S. taxpayers. 

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

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