Never mind what anybody else says, Elias Perez said to his son, Carlos. Do what you want to do. Do what makes you happy. If you don't want to fit in a box, don't. If you don't want to be a good little solider and follow marching orders, don't. Be yourself, not someone's idea of you. Growing up in Calistoga, home schooled, Perez heard those words of independence so much, it seemed like background music.
"As a kid you think you aren't listening," Perez said, "but you are."
Seven years ago, at the age of 26, Perez put those words to action. A software engineer for a large company, Perez saw his future. There would be a lot of money in it; in fact, there already was. Certainly there was job security; name an aspect of human existence that doesn't have computers influencing if not controlling it.
"But I didn't feel I was accomplishing anything meaningful," Perez said. "It freaked me out."
Tuesday morning, seven years later, Perez sat in front of his computer screen. There, right there, was the evidence Carlos Perez had found something intensely personal, meaningful and, clearly, rewarding. It was registration for Levi Leipheimer's 2012 King's Ridge GranFondo.
One minute into the registration, 400 people had entered the website to sign up. In eight minutes, 1,000 people were on the site. Within 10 minutes a rider e-mailed: "There's talk in the office about a co-workers' water breaking. Who cares? I have to register for Levi's GranFondo. This is important!"
Within 20 minutes 1,570 riders completed registration for the Gran route, 275 for the Medio route and 60 for the Piccolo. By 10 a.m., just one hour after registration opened, 30.6 percent (2,293) of 7,500 slots for the Sept.29 event were filled. At 11 a.m. a chart showed the origin of entries: Ireland, Italy, Barbados, Brazil, Cyprus, Taiwan, Japan, Austria, Guam, Britain, Canada and, of course, the United States. By 5 p.m. Tuesday, 3,750 completed entries were received.
And this time, for the first time in the four years of the Fondo, the server on registration day didn't crash. For the first time in four years no one was texting, "QUICK, CARLOS NEEDS ADVIL PRONTO!" His Fondo website held its own. At one point 1,100 people were on it to register. The dark days of hair-pulling and fingernail-yanking were over. Spending well over 200 hours writing new software programs and reconfiguring the website since the 2011 meltdown, Perez has sensationally beaten back the doubts that registration for such a big event could ever be conducted smoothly.
Yes, the Fondo was most certainly Leipheimer's idea, but it was Perez who provided the sweat equity, with much help from what might be described as The Carlos Cabal, among them Cheryl Wallace, Jennifer Picard, Kim Dow and Greg Fisher. Perez quit corporate America to make a difference and this certainly would qualify: $250,000 was donated to charity from the 2011 Fondo.
"When you do something you're passionate about," Perez said, "it resonates. So even when you screw up like we did, people will stick with you because they know why you are there. But if you are in it for the money, people aren't nearly as forgiving."
Seven years ago, long before the Fondo, Perez founded Bike Monkey. How he came to call it Bike Monkey? No clue. The idea just popped in his head. And his business plan was an unconventional as his company's title. Perez didn't structure every decision with a profit-margin as the driving force. No, in fact, his notion of running a business was counterintuitive to prevailing theory.