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David K. Williams
Contributor, Entrepreneurs
July 2019

When And How Should You Disrupt An Industry?

I’ve been talking quite a bit about company pivots.
Now I’d like to take the conversation to another level. In a
traditional pivot, the shift may involve incremental or
even giant changes to meet the demands of customers or
a shift in focus to a different part of the market. Beyond
this style of pivot, I’m going to talk about industry
disruption today. In these cases, the business may shift to
a completely new market or address it’s existing industry
with an entirely new model.

Which is better? The decision is harder than it sounds.

Addressing an existing market in a better or expanded
way is often the safer decision for a business that knows
it’s customers, knows their proclivities and has a strong
reputation and distribution model already in place. In
these cases, you have a legacy and foundation with equity
in it (in the form of an existing following and customer
base) to propel you forward.

For example, in one of my most notable prior ventures we
sold a software solution for small businesses. We
achieved high growth by adding increasingly stronger
functionality. It allowed us to retain and please our

customers longer, to win a progressively bigger share of the market and ultimately allowed us to sell to increasingly larger businesses before they had to mark the jump to a much more IT-heavy and expensive alternative.

In contrast, industry disruption can be a giant leap of faith into an
unknown future. Consider the first company to introduce a solution
like Siri or a daily shaving subscription or a grocery delivery plan. No matter how brilliant your model, you will have to educate a world that to at least some degree doesn’t know your product or even your

Todd Feazel and Mike Feazel are the co-founders of Roof Maxx, extending the life of prematurely aging roofs.

category of product exists. And even upon learning about it
will have to be convinced that it works.

Imagine a top 10 list of household automation apps. For
example, in which the only participant is…you. Or a Gartner
Quadrant report in which you don’t fit the existing model for
business, so the analysis either mis-categorizes your product
or leaves you entirely out.

But when disruption works, the result can be magic: Think
Airbnb. Uber. The iOS or Android smartphone. Or Roof Maxx,
the company I visited this week which pivoted two years ago
from a leading roofing provider to revamp the model for the
way we restore and sustain asphalt roofs.

For 25 years, the founders of Roof Maxx, brothers Mike and
Todd Feazel, were roofers. They led a booming business,
one of the nation’s largest residential contractors, more
than 60,000 projects and enjoyed a solid reputation as
quality providers and experts.

Today, while the duo continues to be regarded as experts,
the team now heads a business with an opposite
model—roofing sustainability and restoration—with a
presence in 44 states. They’ve become what CEO Mike
Feazel calls “unroofers”.

“We no longer replace roofs,” he says. “We restore them.”

The company has developed an all-natural, plant-based
shingle rejuvenator spray to extend the life of aging roofs.
When used every 5 years, it can extend the life of a roof by
as many as 15 additional years (in contrast, the replacement
cost of an asphalt roof can range from $5,000 to $15,000 or
more, with restoration costing typically only 15%-20% of
the cost of replacing a roof). Roof Maxx is a sustainable
technology that significantly reduces the need to
manufacture, dispose of and replace asphalt roofing.

A story of disruption

The Roof Maxx story is an interesting case study for knowing
when the moment has arrived to turn the approach to an
industry sector on it’s head.

From 1988-2012, the original company was doing great and
expanding steadily. Then in the early 2000s, changes began
to happened in the manufacturing of asphalt shingles. In a
Nutshell, the asphalt we use for roofs is a byproduct of the
oil refining process. But at about this time, engineers
created a new process for oil refining to yield more gasoline
and less waste byproduct (asphalt). The change was great
for the production of gasoline but disastrous for the
production of asphalt. It caused the price of asphalt shingles
to nearly triple in price within a couple of years.

As a result, shingle manufacturers began to evolve their
practices as well. Many moved to lower levels of asphalt in
their shingles and combined with crushed limestone fillers,
with disastrous results. Less asphalt has made for lower
waterproofing protection, about one-third lower weight and
a much shorter service life than the shingles used in the 90’s
which came with a 30-year warranty.

Over time the shift has produced an epidemic of roof leaks,
which, in addition to the damage they cause within the
home, can result in attic mold or cause faulty wiring to
spark. In most of the U. S. we’re seeing massive appearance
of “roof mold” (which is actually produced by airborne algae
that produces the black streaks and stains on many north
and west-facing roofs).

The roofs that formerly lasted 20-30 years are now failing in
as little as 7-years. Class action suits have emerged by the
dozens, with one suit including 6 million property owners.
They allege that manufacturers have knowingly been selling
defective products prone to premature blistering, tearing,
cracking, deamination, granule loss, degradation and loss of

adhesion between adjacent shingles. (For a deeper look at
these issues readers can find syndicated columnist Tim
Caters book, “Roofing Ripoff,” which examines these claims
in detail.)

Plan A — Inspect and protect.

As a trusted and prevalent provider of roofing, The Feazels
have had a front row seat to the industry’s challenges. So
understandably, their first approach to the growing problem
was to put an increasing focus on roof inspection for their
customers. And to elevate their effort to educate the industry
and their customer base.

Mike, in particular, began to speak and write on the issue.
He advised homeowners (then and now) to have their roofs
inspected annually, to catch problems before serious
issues arise.

“When homeowners place blind faith in their roof until the
first sign of a leak appears on the ceiling, they may already
be facing much larger problems,”he says, such as structural
issues, mold or damaged insulation.

Mike and Todd served on the national advisory council for a
major U.S. roofing manufacturer and helped design a
certified contractor program to ensure practitioners could
support the market with consistent and high quality work.

Mike launched a monthly column called “A View from the
Top.” For roofing Contractor Magazine, to provide education

A Roof Maxx spray treatment is applied from the bottom, or along eaves, working towards the top of the roof.

for the sector and advocate for positive industry change,
such as his article “Inspect to Protect Against Defects.” He
also cofounded Roofers Success International, the nations
leading contractor university.

Yet the challenges remain

The founders’ effort were notable, but the problems
remained. Right now, Mike notes, tens of millions of
homeowners are still at high risk of premature roof failure
and damage from leaks that develop for years before
showing up inside the home. The petrochemical oil in
asphalt allows shingles to remain flexible . But the move to
less asphalt means a high percentage of shingles are
failing prematurely. Builders and homeowners should be
wary as well, as many products now come with a limited
lifetime warranty with stipulations that are increasingly
hard to fulfill.

Roofing companies are under extreme pressure as the
brunt of the blame for roofs that fail falls on the contractors
shoulders, regardless of the quality of their work.

It was this scenario, in whole, that led the Feazels to sell
their successful business and move toward an industry
disruption instead. By partnering with The Ohio Soybean
Council) with funding obtained from America Farmers) the
team collaborated with leaders in bio-tech, academia, and
commercial development to create an all-natural spray
with the help of Battelle, the worlds largest private
research and development laboratory. The result is Roof
Maxx, which can extend the life of a roof by as many as 15
additional years. The benefits are greater still as the
company’s network of certified dealers are saving millions
of square feet of roofing that was otherwise destined
for landfills.

What are the downsides to disruption?

In a situation like Roof Maxx, providing the remedy to a
pervasive and bad situation seems to involve only
positives. The company’s solution extends the life of

Battelle is the world’s largest private research and development company.

asphalt shingles and makes shingles of any quality more
effective. They are also improving the marketplace by
advocating for inspection and certification to ensure fair
practice and quality deliverables for all.

However, it is important to note the amount of courage
and level of risk in making a move that disrupts the very
models of business the team had helped to create.
Would they be putting traditional roofers out of
business? Would they alienate manufacturers by
reducing the need for new roofs? Perhaps most important
for their own future, would they be able to surmount
the need to educate consumers, builders, and contractors
to put an entirely new paradigm into place? The
risks are significant in a new and less familiar arena. The
company’s biggest task, currently, is to educate all of
the sectors involved while finding, training and supporting
the dealers and service providers to allow their
solution to scale.

The Ohio State University has recently issued a 23-page
study to help examine the role of Roof Maxx technology
in addressing the challenges of asphalt shingles, which
are present on 80 percent of U.S. homes. The company
has appeared in an educational segment of PBS, and the
general press (beyond building and construction) is

increasingly taking note. The company has achieved
significant growth in it’s first two years of operation.
The move to disruption appears to have been a good
one so far.

Mike is quick to remark that while the severe drop in shingle quality was a key factor in the decision to launch Roof Maxx, not all manufacturers are trying to take
advantage of consumers in this way. He notes there are
quality manufacturers in the sector as well. Regardless,
however, the ability to offer an innovation that could
improve the sector in every respect was an opportunity
too great (and too important for the industry they love)
to refuse. I wish them every success as their expansion

Roof Maxx technicians set up for roof spray treatment.

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