How this former Lehman Brothers banker built a pandemic-proof business


Declan Ee generally realized he desired to run his own company. 

But when he graduated from University College or university London in 2006, he saw his peers applying for careers at investment decision financial institutions and resolved to give it a attempt.

His initially gig? Lehman Brothers.

“I favored looking at how businesses labored on a world scale. So that was very exciting.”

But the 2008 collapse of Lehman Brothers not only roiled world-wide marketplaces, it was a shake-up for Ee as well.

“I was in the subprime home finance loan division. I dodged reporters while going for walks to Lehman in Canary Wharf. It produced me double down on leaving banking at some place.”

… it really is about making a good basis and a powerful company that gives benefit to your focus on consumers.

Declan Ee

Co-founder, Castlery

The 39-calendar year-aged Singaporean did leave expenditure banking sooner or later in 2016, to develop his home furniture get started-up, Castlery. 

Currently, the enterprise is bringing in millions and its modern items can be uncovered in over 300,000 houses globally, reported Castlery. CNBC Make It finds out how.

Household furniture for city millennials 

It all commenced when Ee arrived back to Singapore 11 decades back and was furnishing his marital household. 

His excellent good friend and co-founder Fred Ji was also seeking for economical contemporary furnishing. 

“We shared a bond in that … [the process was] aggravating. We want to get the wonderful parts but they are so inaccessible.”

That is due to matters like the cost level and managing a number of guide-times of household furniture, he defined.

That is when they experienced the strategy of selling very affordable, designer household furniture to “urban millennials” between 25 to 45 many years outdated. 

To include to the shopper shopping experience, there is a showroom in Singapore and pop-up merchants throughout U.S. and Australia.


“This age team, you go by way of a large amount of improve. You go away faculty, you commence constructing your profession, you get married, you have a child … We incorporate stuff to our properties,” the president of Castlery instructed CNBC Make It.

Ee desired to provide solutions to younger adults who want to have an “inspiring room” and “a thing much more than Ikea,” — with no breaking the lender.

In 2013, Ee and Ji went digital-1st with Castlery, making it possible for people to perspective a virtual studio and obtain furnishings on the internet — a disruptor in the traditional home furniture business. 

“When prospects began to store on the internet for furniture, they recognized that, ‘I you should not need to have to go to 25 furniture merchants anymore.’ The following time they will need to purchase some thing, they will do it on the net yet again.”

Understanding from ‘blow-ups’ 

Acquiring no practical experience in the household furniture retail enterprise, Ee believed he necessary six to seven a long time to learn the ropes, which is as very long as the “fund lifestyle” of VCs. 

“Straightaway, you can find a conflict … which is why worry comes about — you really don’t have clarity of thought, mainly because you have to scale at all cost.”

Alternatively, Castlery’s initial investments came from loved ones members and other entrepreneurs who have exited their businesses.

“At the core, it can be about making a very good foundation and a robust small business that presents worth to your concentrate on prospects. That will often translate no issue what, whether you want to provide or checklist your organization,” Ee claimed. 

Pandemic-accelerated growth 

We had been expanding so quickly, our faces were turning environmentally friendly.

Declan Ee

Co-founder, Castlery

And as tens of millions of employees have been shut out of their places of work and essential to work from dwelling, the “which means of house” also changed, Ee noticed. 

“It can be not just a location you occur back again to [after work]. You are carrying out your do the job, you happen to be pursuing your passions, you have your kids. How you furnish your home issues mainly because you’re paying out a great deal more time there.”

With far more people today looking to upgrade their room, Castlery’s progress “accelerated,” claimed Ee.

“We have been expanding so rapid, our faces ended up turning environmentally friendly.” 

In accordance to Castlery, the business grew “six instances” during the pandemic, producing above $100 million in the most the latest fiscal yr ending March 2022, and was successful in 2020.

Castlery caters to urban millennials who want an “inspiring space” without breaking the lender, reported its co-founder Declan Ee.


Having said that, with or with out the pandemic, Ee thinks that Castlery’s largest marketing point is the style and features of its solutions. 

“I speak to prospects from the U.S. every single month and they are like, ‘We like your washable selection of sofas!’ I imagined, ‘Okay, it truly is a detail?'”

“I guess currently being Asians, we are very realistic,” he stated.

Ee additional: “They would reveal that in the U.S., you will never have this selection at this selling price position.” According to him, his furnishings is “20% to 30%” more affordable than related pieces in the market.

Every assortment is assigned a buyer, an engineer and a planner — this trio operates a perfectly-oiled machine to make sure products go to market place in a well timed and price-efficient method.


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