entrepreneurial tenacity by nik ingersoll photo of connor mcgregor







What’s the one quality that I think matters the most when you are creating a company? Tenacity. The bite down on your mouthpiece type of drive. That kind of feeling that back in the day you could only achieve by running away from saber tooth tigers in the forest. That fight over flight attitude that you will hustle and execute to get to where you want to go as a matter of survival. Without the entrepreneurial tenacity for your idea to move forward, you might as well go work for Goldman Sachs.


Having tenacity doesn’t mean your idea is going to set the world on fire. However, if you don’t have tenacity, your idea most likely won’t. Tenacity, like many things, is heavily determined by the DNA that was sequenced during your journey from a zygote to a complete human. However, I think nurture over indexes on it’s influence over tenacity.


There is no doubt that growing up in a hard, working class environment aided the development of my entrepreneurial tenacity as a survival mechanism. I felt that no one believed in me and if I didn’t believe in myself, then wouldn’t go anywhere. I don’t know and I don’t think anyone really knows how to tell you how to be tenacious but I can tell you that you need it.


I know that I can control my discipline and work ethic. Therefore, I focus on that the most. I vowed to myself a long time ago that I would never allow myself to live my life at poverty line again. That idea really pervades much of how I think about things. 



The enemy of entrepreneurial tenacity: vacillation. But vacillations are are just that, thoughts. They are in fact not who you are at all. They are random neurochemical brain impulses that often result in electrophysiological signals in your body. You get to choose which thoughts you want to pay attention to and which negative thoughts that you can let fly on by. Fear is both real and rational, but flight is not what makes great companies, fight is. I must say that it is important not to confuse tenacity with arrogance, not to confuse confidence with boisterous bravado. But if you are too scared to start or too cocky to learn, then entrepreneurship may not be for you.


confidence vinn diagram nik ingersoll

Tenacity also means having the optimism and confidence that you will succeed. Confidence can win a room. In college, I was working full-time,simultaneously founding a couple of start-ups with my sights set on raising millions of dollars and eventually exiting for many more. I had no social life to say the least. Back then, confidence and optimism were two of the most important assets that I had besides creativity and smarts. I stood in front of 100’s of tech VC’s in Silicon Valley at Demo Launchpad, former entrepreneurs turned investors and the like, all before my 23rd birthday. I can tell you that when you don’t have a crazy resume, when you’re young, if you came from nothing like I; the confidence that you can generate about the skills that you DO have goes a long way.



The major caveat: no one likes unsubstantiated bravado.


On the inverse, I have felt my confidence waiver a couple of times in a high stakes pitches in my early 20s. When it happened, I could detect a profound change in the room. You always get back what you put out. When you are young with no real accomplishments – know what you do have. Work ethic, hustle, passion, smarts, skills, creativity, whatever that mix is for you – know it. Couple that with the tenacity to see it through. Know it and let everyone you work with know it too. Coming from the isolated, poor, rural farmland in Western Nebraska – I didn’t have money for college, no money from my parents for rent, books, tuition or any of that. So, I worked with what I had and what I could learn, but most importantly the tenacity to see it through.


I’m often asked for my advice for first time founders. First: are you sure you are cut out for this, do you have the tenacity to do it for real? If so, get help early. Start thinking about who could be a great Co-Founder or a first, second or third employee. Are they tenacious enough? Get your advisory board in order so you can have some people that you can ask questions. Were they a tenacious founder before? You should try to find one of those.
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Always be aware of the enemy, vacillation. It is often truly and completely rational. Just because thoughts are rational however does not mean that they are good for you. I had to block out the rational part of my brain that was screaming things at me like: “what makes you qualified to steward millions of other peoples’ dollars and be responsible for others peoples’ families well-being? You’re still in college…” or “you’re just a poor kid from Nebraska with facial piercings, who is going to take you seriously?”.  The reason that’s important is because many people struggle with those rational, self-defeating thoughts entering their heads. Let them pass as the the wind passes through tall grass and have the tenacity to keep your vision focused on the prize of progress.



One important part of entrepreneurial tenacity is not caring about the opinions of others but also being self aware enough to listen to them. It’s a bit of a catch twenty-two. Don’t care about what people think about you but understand what they think and why they think that way. Being aware does not mean you must care, react or agree with their perceptions. It doesn’t mean that you have to care about their opinions at all actually. It’s for this reason, the most applicable philosophical perspectives to study in the entrepreneurial realm are the stoic teachings of Epictetus, Seneca, Marcus Aurelius and others. That’s because it does not allow for outside forces affecting your perception of who you are.


For whatever reason, I have never cared much about others perceptions of me. Perhaps it’s because I used to play in a death metal band with a face full of piercings and long dyed black hair, an easy target for ridicule. In not caring, I always thought that the attitude that I had was considered fringe or wrong according to others. But, Stoic philosophers have been writing about the benefits of not allowing others’ perceptions to affect your own cognition for a very long time. So, if I could jump into a time machine and give myself one piece of advice, it would be this quote from Epictetus:

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