The success story begins with six young guys in Montreal—good friends who know next to nothing about starting a business. A sister of one of the friends gets a new apartment but there isn’t much space to sit and hang out. That prompts an idea that becomes a Facebook sensation and one of the buzziest start-ups in recent Canadian history.
Transformer Table is a dining table for small spaces that can fit up 12 people or more in a variety of six configurations. With its ability to quickly expand from 18 inches to 10 feet, it is also tailor-made for social distancing.
The company’s alluring Kickstarter campaign last year raised more than $CA 4 million (around $US 3 million) on a goal of $CA 50,000 Canadian (around $US 38,000), making it Canada’s most funded Kickstarter campaign ever, and the platform’s most funded overall for a furniture brand. From the beginning sales hinged almost exclusively on Facebook video ads that showed how quickly the table can convert from small to big.
Founded by a group of friends—some from Russia, some from Canada—Transformer Table shows what happens when you combine grit, ingenuity, quick learning and the desire to accommodate all your besties for dinner—and maybe their friends, too.
Alex Doré, Cedric Deltandre, Artem Kuzmichev, Richard Mabley, Zaur Pkhalagov and Soslan Tsoutsiev (the company’s president) have backgrounds in mining, engineering, defense, video production and graphic design but none of them ever made tables or sold products online. In 2016, after more than a year of intensive research, development and a let’s-try-this approach, Transformer Table was born. The company sells direct to consumers from its website and does almost all its advertising on Facebook. The Optimus-Prime-style furniture pieces sell for $1,799 and up.
In theory, the dining table isn’t so different from one you might find at, say, Ikea, that pulls apart to fit a drop-in leaf or two. What’s special is the user experience and the crowd-pleasing wonders of how big and small this table can get. A steel ball-bearing telescopic mechanism lets the fixed book-ending table pieces glide apart so easily that one person can manage it alone. You can add as many as five solid-wood leaves, which latch easily into place and give six different table size options. Without the leaves you can use the table as a computer desk or hallway shelf that’s just 18 inches across. Fully extended, Transformer becomes a ten-foot banquet table for 12 or more.
An equally ingenious solid-wood bench stretches to 11 feet and can seat up to six people. Its wooden panels stack neatly inside a storage box in the bench when not in use. The company also makes a Tranformer sofa
Perhaps what surprises customers most is the quality, particularly since most people buy the table after being lured in by a Facebook video ad. Transformer Table arrives ready-to-use out of the box and is crafted from carefully sourced wood that is kiln dried to protect against moisture, nicks, stains and heat damage. Finishes come in a range from rustic chic to Modernist monochrome with options that include American mahogany, Siberian birch, Arctic white, Canadian dark oak and Australian acacia. It’s also a beast as far as durability. Those mesmerizing Facebook videos show people standing on the table, and the company insists it can support up to 750 pounds when fully extended. That’s a lot of chicken and pasta.
I love a good start-up tale so I checked in with Artem Key, Transformer Table’s CTO and Director of Marketing. He walked me through the origins of the brand, some of the early hiccups, and explained how Transformer Table’s success, like the products themselves, continues to grown and grow.
You and your friends knew next-to-nothing about starting a business. How did you build Transformer Table into such a success?
Artem Key: It started with a basic idea but we stuck with it. We wanted to see it become a reality. Let’s make a table you can stash away in seconds that can also expand to seat six, ten, 12 or even 16 people at a time. One of my friends has a background in mine engineering. He knows metal. We started tinkering. The main thing was, we never let go of the dream.
What was the biggest challenge?
Artem Key: As far as production, it’s really tough. You think you can get this wood today but then it never arrives. There are issues of quality control. We knew very little about these industries, so it was a lot of trial and error, and sweating things out in the beginning.
How do you stand out in a crowded, super-competitive furniture industry?
Artem Key: First of all, the quality is something we took seriously. Once we figured it out, we said, no compromising. We source only 100 percent hardwoods, and from the best forest regions on earth. All of our products are now inspected throughout the whole process. We have multiple quality insurance inspectors in different manufacturing locations looking at the cuts, the finishes, the assembly. So, it’s a solid piece of furniture that can compete, as far as quality, with anything out there.
It also just looks super-cool.
Artem Key: Yes! And that’s really important. Our products are so visual. You really need to see them with your eyes. That’s why video is number one, our best sales tool.
I can’t stop staring at the Facebook ads. They’re hypnotizing. But you didn’t have experience selling things online either. Was your business plan all done on instinct?
Artem Key: We knew nothing about Facebook, nothing about advertising in the modern world, not to mention nothing about sourcing wood or manufacturing furniture. Like I said, trial and error. Mistake after mistake. But eventually we got there. Two and a half years ago, we were definitely coasting but we had good luck on the marketing front. One of our co-founders took a random camera and filmed a video and put it online. We got over six million views in two weeks.
Wow! What got consumers so excited?
Artem Key: People see this table and know instantly it’s something they want. We got a lot of, ‘Hey, yeah, I just moved into a small place but I want the option of seating more people and this is perfect.’ The table is a place to celebrate and have lots of people over, and this represented that kind of celebration.
Then Covid happened and nobody was celebrating. What impact has the pandemic had on business?
Artem Key: We were scared. In Montreal, the lockdown happened on March 17 and we said, ‘What’s gonna happen? Are we going to sell anything?’ Within those weeks, as brick and mortar stores shut down, we saw the advantages of selling online. We’ve really only sold online. We’re not in stores. So, what we’ve seen is tripling, quadrupling of sales monthly. Everybody is at home, everybody is sitting around the table and looking on Facebook. Those are combinations that work for us.
It works for social distancing, too.
Artem Key: Right. For game night. For puzzles. For Zoom. All the things we do now.
What’s the brand’s plan going forward? Transformer beds and couches?
Artem Key: We have several products in the works. We already designed an outdoor sofa that expands. Mostly we’re just enjoying ourselves and loving the reaction people are having to our products. We have no idea what’s going to happen. But our team is amazing. We’ve grown from 6 to over 35 people in our front office, and we work from seven in the morning until seven at night and have a great time. We’ve sold around 20,000 units in four years and we still feel like we’re just starting.
Sounds like there’s definitely still room to expand.
Artem Key: Ohhh!
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.