A Dopico Consulting Inc. (2018)
Interviewed by Sheri Hoyte for Reader Views (10/18)
Anna Dopico never imaged herself as a writer but felt compelled to write the story of Phil White and Gerard Vroomen, co-founders of Cervélo Cycles. Married to Phil, she had an insider’s view of their story from when Phil and Gerard met to when they sold their company. Anna was not only Phil’s wife but a business person, as well, with financing experience that proved useful after Phil and Gerard started their company. She provided a home for Cervélo in the early years, became a business advisor to the company, and in the later years, went to work for the company. She spent three years writing the Cervélo story and released the book in May, 2018.
Welcome, Anna! Thank you for joining us today at Reader Views. What is “To Make Riders Faster” about?
To Make Riders Faster is an inspirational tale of two entrepreneurs who took their company, Cervélo Cycles, and their bikes from a school basement project in Montreal, Canada, to victory in the Tour de France, the Olympics and Ironman competitions. They built the most sought-after brand in the cycling world in less than a decade and faced the fight of their lives to keep their company alive. The book begins with Vroomen and White meeting at McGill University in 1995 and takes the reader, on a wild ride of success and setback culminating with the sale of their company in 2012. The book shares cycling stories, business stories, engineering stories and personal stories.
What inspired you to write this book?
I was on a cycling trip in France when the idea for the book came to me. It was a crazy idea. I wasn’t a writer. But the more I thought about it, the more compelled I felt to write the Cervélo story.
The trip was meant to be an escape. My last year working for Cervélo had been extraordinarily stressful. We’d received notice from an aggressive financier that he intended to seize the company, which began a fight for our survival that led to the sale of the company in 2012. By the end of that year, I had nothing left in the tank, and I left the company. With that business crisis behind me, a personal crisis arose when my mother was diagnosed with cancer. I became her caregiver, helping her to fight stage four cancer. Fortunately, she won.
On my cycling trip, other cyclists discovered that my husband was the co-founder of Cervélo, and I soon found myself answering never-ending questions about the company and its bikes. Although I appreciated their support and interest and still feel very privileged to have been part of the company, it wasn’t helping with my much-needed escape from the pressures and stress of my life. By the middle of the trip, I was quite grumpy and needed to figure out a way to make the trip a better experience. At the hotel one night, I decided to go to the hotel bar, where I sat and thought about the wild ride we’d had with Cervélo and what an incredible story it was. Over a period of less than a decade, I’d watched two university students who lived like paupers begin working out of my basement and garage to build a great bicycle and go on to become worldwide industry leaders. If I thought it was an incredible story, and if people couldn’t stop asking questions about it, there had to be a book. And so, I began my journey as a writer.
It’s interesting in that the story seems to be both a biographical account and a business profile. Who is the intended audience for “To Make Riders Faster”?
I wrote the Cervélo story to inspire as well as to entertain. I wanted anyone who read the book to enjoy the story of two engineering students who decided to build a bike company and succeeded against the odds. It’s about the achievement of excellence in cycling and the creation of a globally recognized business. The story will resonate with everyone and especially with Cervélo owners, cyclists and entrepreneurs.
Talk about the research process, since you were part of Cervélo from the beginning. How did you go about accumulating and assembling all the material you needed and how did it feel to resurrect the past, so to speak?
I started with a double-sided whiteboard in my office. On one side I drew a timeline and mapped all the bikes that were designed throughout the years and their associated engineering advances. I then met with White and Vroomen to get their feedback about major milestones and events, and I plotted these against the timeline.
Once this was done, I combed through piles of boxes we had in storage to find faxes, pictures, articles, memos, brochures, and marketing collateral that provided information on these milestones and events. I mapped these out randomly on the other side of the whiteboard. I also recorded the information in a word document and stored hard copies in folders, all organized by date. I then spent a few months researching the company on the internet and incorporated this information into the major milestones and events. I recorded themes and potential themes for each major milestone and event on the whiteboard until I had a skeleton outline of the book. With this skeleton in place, I began sketching out the Cervélo story.
At this point, I began interviewing employees, customers, athletes, retailers, and suppliers. I recorded and transcribed these conversations and isolated interesting stories, themes, and facts, which I then added to the whiteboard. When the whiteboard got messy, I taped sections of my typed notes to the corresponding milestones on the whiteboard.
The interviewing took a little over a year. I would interview a few people at a time, isolate information from these conversations and post it on the whiteboard, and, after reviewing and considering the information, make changes on the whiteboard. Once I was satisfied with the themes and stories emerging for each milestone and event, I incorporated the information from the whiteboard into the skeleton document. With each interview, another piece of the story would surface. After a while, the Cervélo story emerged, and the skeleton document turned into chapters of a book.
Writing the book was more creative than I thought, but I enjoyed the process. I learned (after a long while) to go with the flows of creativity, and I let the information that I gathered shape the story. I was happy to meander and relive the past with the exception of the year prior to the sale of the company. That chapter took many attempts.
And, did you have a feel for how you wanted your narrative to read?
I started by writing the story in chronological order, but I was not committed to that format. I knew that what I started with was not necessarily what I would end up with. It just happened that the story continued to develop in this format. I didn’t feel a need to change it once all the chapters were completed.
Also, I began telling the story in the third person because, since I was the spouse of the co-founder, I wanted objectivity to be obvious. However, as the book developed and I gained more confidence, a third-person narrative didn’t feel honest nor was it the right narrative. So, I re-wrote the entire book from my perspective.
What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating “To Make Riders Faster?”
When I wrote To Make Riders Faster I could never have imagined how the book would touch someone’s life. Recently, a friend contacted me to ask if I would write a personalized quote in a book she purchased for her sister-in-law, who had recently lost her husband to cancer. He was a huge Cervélo fan and owned a small fleet of Cervélo bikes. I happily complied and hoped it would bring some solace. My friend said the book would make her sister-in-law smile and cry at the same time. I was deeply touched by this experience. It gave me a renewed sense of purpose and added deeper meaning to my efforts in writing the book.
What has been your LEAST favorite part of this whole experience?
My least favourite part of this whole experience is sales and marketing, which I thought I would enjoy given my business background. Sales and marketing turned out to be harder than I thought and I’ve turned to marketing professionals to assist with PR and advertising.
As a self-published author, what can you share with us about your publishing experience?
Self-publishing was not as daunting as one would think, and it was my only choice for book distribution. Self-publishing provided complete control over all aspects of the book, which I needed because Cervélo is a brand. I was surprised to discover that publishers wouldn’t, for example, allow the author to make final decisions over the cover of a book, among other things. The most difficult thing to decide was the print run. I’m still not sure I made the right decision. I’ll know after the Christmas season!
How did it feel when you first held the product of all your hard work in your hands?
I felt more impact from receiving and holding draft pages for the first time than from the first printed book. Holding and looking through the pages with colour and photographs was quite emotional and exciting. I felt very gratified. At my first book signing, I felt honoured as someone told me that I was presenting a piece of Canadian history to the world.
Tell us a bit about yourself – what do you like to do in your free time?
I enjoy running and I’m an improving cyclist as well as a sometime car racer. Since my mother’s fight with cancer, I committed myself to running a ½ marathon each year somewhere in the world I wouldn’t normally go and to donate money to help beat cancer. Next year, I hope to go to Patagonia. Since I haven’t had an income for a few years, I gave up car racing but it’s such an addictive sport that I’m sure I’ll be back at it soon. And soon my husband and I will plan our next cycling trip – somewhere warm during the Canadian winter!
Do you have a website where readers can learn more?
Readers may get more information at www.ToMakeRidersFaster.com
Where can readers connect with you on social media?
Where can readers purchase your book?
Readers can purchase my book at http://www.ToMakeRidersFaster.com
It’s been said that everyone has a story in them. What advice can you give to aspiring authors?
Writing takes discipline and endurance; think of yourself as an athlete who needs to practice and train every day and has to fight to get to the finish line.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Anything can be achieved with passion, grit, and intelligence, and with the right people supporting you. Finding a good editor is critical – keep searching until you’ve found the right person to work with you and realize your vision.
Thank you so much for being with us today, Anna. It’s been an honor to learn more about you and your book, “To Make Riders Faster.”