How Max Hertan turned teenage acne into a million-dollar idea

silvi

Melbourne entrepreneur Max Hertan is one half of the brains behind acne-fighting pillowcase Silvi.

Like so many teenagers (and some adults), Melbourne-based friends Ben Goodman and Max Hertan experienced the heartbreaking rite of passage that is acne.

Often embarrassing and sometimes painful, it was hard to forget the feeling, so when Goodman and Hertan reached adulthood, they decided to tackle the problem head-on — literally.

“Ben had read that [around] 40% of acne caused is due to exposure to bacteria,” Hertan tells SmartCompany.

“And usually the culprit is our pillow.”

The pair got to work, brainstorming how a simple pillowcase could be an acne-warrior in a market saturated in harsh topicals and prescription medicine.

In 2020, Silvi was born — the $89 pillowcases are made from 100% Mulberry silk that has been treated with anti-bacterial silver ions that kill up to 99.97% of bacteria.

“Ben noticed the silver technology had been in other products as an anti-bacterial agent and so we started putting it together to see if we could create a better product,” Hertan explains.

“It took a year of development, 21 products, many series of lab testing but we find the right silver ion treatment with a high-quality silk had a really positive effect on ours and all our friends’ skin.”

Aside from its acne-fighting silver ions, the world-first pillowcase can also improve collagen retention, reducing the appearance of fine lines while regulating natural facial oils.

Hertan says Silvi pillowcases are also 4.5 times more breathable and cooling than cotton, while also being hypoallergenic for those with sensitive skin.

The pair were so confident in their product, they introduced a 100-night risk-free trial for customers, with a full refund on offer — and the accolades started pouring in from all corners of the beauty world.

Refinery29’s Alexandra Polk urged readers to pick up a few “new best friends for your face”, continuing “I’d say if you struggle with acne or have skincare product fatigue, you should definitely dress your pillow to nines in this sexy silk slip”, while Russh’s Jasmine Pirovic sung the acne-fighting silk pillowcase’s praises too, writing “one of our favourites comes from Silvi”.

Hertan says he’s always been entrepreneurial — he ran a marketing agency called Megaphone, and had his own YouTube channel called “Max’s Monthly Challenge” prior to his foray into beauty.

But these days, he hardly has a second to spare. In the first six weeks of launch, Silvi pillowcases flew out the door, with a whopping $350,000 in sales for Hertan and Goodman.

“Growth was a lot faster than we anticipated. We sold out five times in our first year, we couldn’t keep the product in stock,” he says.

“We’ve since expanded internationally to US and Canada. We now have over 50,000 customers and still growing!”

The pair’s success has led them to diversify miracle-product Silvi into a series of products like face and eye masks — as well as the “softest and cleanest bedsheets that we have ever felt”.

“They are silver ion bamboo lyocell, similar principles to the pillowcase and fantastic for your skin and for the environment,” he explains.

There’s plenty more in the mix — Hertan is coy about revealing much more — but says Silvi fans can expect one or two new products to launch this year.

Looking back on his journey to success with Silvi, Hertan says there is one crucial thing budding entrepreneurs should consider when developing their own million-dollar idea.

“Take time on the product,” Hertan warns simply.

“I think it can be easy to get carried away with getting first sales and not really intensively testing the product.”

Hertan says a really great product should “do a lot of the marketing itself. Customers should be selling it to their network.”

The secret sauce to make that happen, he says, is perfecting the product, rather than getting something on the shelves fast and then pumping lots of marketing dollars into it.

“From there, when you add in great marketing, the product will carry immense growth,” Hertan promises.

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