Elle Keane & Hatun Kruger, co-founders, Max Linen

We’re heading behind the scenes at Max Linen to meet its two passionate co-founders, Elle Keane and Hatun Kruger. The friends-turned-business-partners took a brave plunge launching a business in 2020 as a global pandemic fired curveballs all around them; but one year on, and their decision has proven to be the right one. Each already successful in their respective fields of hairdressing and program management, Elle and Hatun had a dream to cloak bubs and their families in beautiful, sustainable linen while minimising their environmental impact. To celebrate Max Linen’s recent first birthday, we chat to the busy mamas about their challenges, triumphs and that ever-elusive work-life balance.

Congratulations on a successful first year in business. What part of the journey are you most proud of?
Elle: Thanks so much, it’s been a crazy, beautiful ride so far. I’d have to say our resilience and friendship – these two incredibly important things have kept us grounded over this past year.
Hatun: I’m proud of how much we’ve achieved on our own – navigating systems, tools and the world of digital marketing without much experience or training. Second to that would be our product; we looked hard to find something we were proud to use, as well as share with our family and friends.

What inspired the idea for Max Linen?
Elle: I started Max as a haircare label but during the initial phase of product development and setting up all things creative, I hit a wall and things halted. I’ve learnt that this is my downfall and why I wasn't able to go from an idea and creative concept to a functioning business. Little did I know, the missing aspect wasn’t a niche or trendy product but a person. Hatun mentioned if I ever wanted to bring Max back to life she was interested in a partnership. In my heart, I knew this was the right decision forward; she’s incredibly intelligent, has a great eye for design and, most importantly, is grounded – the total opposite of my airy, dreaming brain. We eventually came to the decision for our focus to be a linen range after a few false starts dipping our toes into the world of eco products.
Hatun: Max’s inception was as organic as possible. The brand was the brainchild of Elle. She’s an entrepreneur at heart and she wanted to start a new business so she was able to spend more time with her family. I, on the other hand, had no background in business but wanted to invest and create something. We explored a few options and Elle introduced me to French flax linen. As soon as I tried the samples, I was blown away by the quality and my husband (who probably would wash his sheets once a month!) was so impressed he now wants to sleep on linen only.

You launched your company during a pandemic, that’s no easy feat. What were the best and worst things about your timing?
Elle:
I think we’ve learnt more in the last 12 months than most businesses would learn in the first few years in business during a pre-pandemic world. The world was quite literally sent to their bedrooms to stay put for an indefinite amount of time. This definitely inspired our customers to rethink and remodel their bedrooms and children’s nurseries. If you’ve ever slept in linen, you’d agree it’s the most desirable fabric to be wrapped up in to get the most comfortable and restful sleep. At the risk of sounding clichéd, I think all the ‘worst’ things have led us to making better decisions, reviewing and reflecting constantly and decision making on the fly between changing nappies and playing shopkeeper with our kids for the third time that day.
Hatun: Worst were the delays with getting our product on time. Epecially as we’re so particular about being reliable, it was hard for us not being able to control what was going on with the delays in shipping. The best thing would be we’ve met a lot of challenges early on, so it was like a pressure test and so far so good – we’re still swimming!

No doubt the early days of getting a business off the ground are far from glamorous. What has it been like behind the scenes for you and your families?
Elle:
An accurate representation of running a business alongside parenting is happening in my house right now: as I’m working on this interview, my eldest daughter is playing with her dolls, but the dolls have become tired of their actual dolls’ house and are remodelling my dried flower arrangement, which now looks more like the last standing tree in autumn. My middle daughter is co-parenting the baby of the family, who is having a summer adventure with a straw hat on and is swimming in a ‘pool’ made from a roll of toilet paper, right in the middle of our lounge room. Running two businesses and three kids is utter chaos – I wouldn’t recommend it for the fainthearted.
Hatun: Our roles are fluid in some instances and are set by circumstances in others. For example, I had the space in my house to hold stock, so naturally my role was ‘warehouse manager’ and all the associated responsibility. We joke that my husband is the warehouse help – helping me move things around and carry really heavy orders. Elle, on the other hand, is great with socials and has the creative flair so she develops all our beautiful assets.

Do you have any wisdom to share on juggling motherhood with a demanding work life?
Elle:
I’m not sure I feel qualified to answer this question as I’m always trying to find the balance. My wisdom bomb would be: I see ‘balance’ like I see ‘happiness’ – neither are permanent states of being. There are ups and downs or balanced weeks and totally chaotic weeks, but I’d have to say being content in knowing the demanding weeks won’t last forever and adapting to the needs of each week would be my secret, if I had one. I’m actually not sure if my life will ever be balanced, I just don’t think that’s the type of person I am.
Hatun: Like any relationship, communication is key. Elle and I might take the load off when things are a bit tricky. Elle has three girls and I have one, with another on the way. Our respective partners have been so supportive of us so we’re also grateful for them.

How do you think that being mums has made you better businesswomen? 
Elle:
I think it’s made me a better listener, more compassionate and less reactive to others. It’s really allowed us to walk a mile in our customers’ shoes and understand what their needs are and resonate with how they feel throughout the stages of parenthood/motherhood, particularly the impending mother. Hatun and I often reflect on that time as nervous first-time mums and it drives a lot of our choices when deciding what the important features of our products are.
Hatun: As mums, we know what’s important for other mums and families. Life can get really busy and you have so many choices to make in any given day, so we wanted to create a collection that had simplicity in mind. A good example of our understanding is the detail we went to around the length of sleeves on a new range of robes we’ll be launching soon – we wanted to know that anyone wearing the robe could wash up the morning breakfast and make lunches without getting their sleeves into everything.

What do you love most about running Max Linen? 
Elle: It’s honestly my dream job, I find myself working any spare second I get because I’m so invested in our brand. I’m incredibly proud of our linen quality and our products' design. I feel so blessed to have partnered with such an inspiring business partner; Hatun and I are so in sync, it’s hilarious the amount of times we message the same thing to each other.
Hatun: I love seeing happy customers, especially when they leave a review, I feel so proud. It’s like birthing another baby! 

Running a business with a friend must come with its own unique set of challenges and rewards. What are your tips for maintaining a successful collaboration?
Elle: I think friendship has to be important, we genuinely care about one another and if Hatun is feeling the pressure I’ll always check in to see if I can help, and vice-versa. We don’t leave things unsaid, we’re really efficient communicators, so there’s never been anything that is left ‘unspoken’ long enough to become a problem.
Hatun: Key is communication and focusing on moving forward and solving problems, rather than pointing blame. It’s important we’re open and honest with each other so that our friendship isn’t jeopardised. The rewards are so great – we’re always so pumped when we get together and plan what’s next for Max.

What’s one piece of advice you can share with readers who are thinking about starting their own business?
Hatun: It’s important that you don’t give up having a secure, steady income as you build your business. It’s a hard and long road, and financial difficulties impact you and your family. Focus on organic growth, and building your business with good foundations. One of the best decisions Elle and I made was to grow organically and operate lean, instead of having false expectations. 

Max is centred on creating a quality, comfortable snooze space for its customers. What else do you recommend for crafting the ideal sleep environment?
Elle:
Sleep hygiene has become a huge part of my life since having my girls and running two businesses. My top five I aim to do every day are: movement, sun exposure for 20 minutes, no phone one hour prior to bed, limiting caffeine after 11am and sleeping in comfortable, high-quality bedding.
Hatun: One of the best podcasts I’ve heard on sleep is Sleep for Enhancing Learning, Creativity, Immunity, and Glymphatic System by Dr Matthew Walker and Dr Rhonda Patrick.

How do you define ‘success’ in life?
Elle:
When all my buckets are full, but not overflowing. I have my personal self-care bucket, my family bucket and my work bucket.
Hatun: My success is now intrinsically linked with our daughter. Raising a strong, confident, well-adjusted woman is my ultimate goal and measure of success. For me as a woman, separate to my role as a mother, I’m still trying to work out what that looks like. The change into motherhood is a journey I’m still on.