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


Declan Ee generally understood he wished to run his possess business. 

But when he graduated from University College London in 2006, he saw his friends making use of for investment decision banks and made the decision to give it a test.

His 1st gig? Lehman Brothers.

“I favored looking at how companies labored on a world-wide scale. So that was very appealing.”

But the 2008 collapse of Lehman Brothers not only roiled world wide markets, it was a shake-up for Ee far too.

“I was in the subprime home loan division. I dodged reporters whilst walking to Lehman in Canary Wharf. It manufactured me double down on leaving banking at some point.”

… it is about creating a superior foundation and a powerful business that presents worth to your goal customers.

Declan Ee

Co-founder, Castlery

The 39-year-previous Singaporean did depart expenditure banking ultimately in 2016, to build his furnishings commence-up, Castlery. 

Today, the business is bringing in millions and its modern parts can be discovered in in excess of 300,000 residences globally, explained Castlery. CNBC Make It finds out how.

Home furnishings for urban millennials 

It all started off when Ee arrived again to Singapore 11 a long time ago and was furnishing his marital dwelling. 

His very good mate and co-founder Fred Ji was also looking for affordable modern-day furnishing. 

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

That is owing to factors like the value issue and taking care of various lead-periods of home furniture, he spelled out.

Which is when they experienced the concept of offering economical, designer furniture to “urban millennials” between 25 to 45 decades aged. 

To add to the customer purchasing experience, there is a showroom in Singapore and pop-up merchants across U.S. and Australia.


“This age team, you go by means of a whole lot of improve. You go away college, you get started making your career, you get married, you have a kid … We increase things to our homes,” the president of Castlery informed CNBC Make It.

Ee needed to supply possibilities to youthful grownups who want to have an “inspiring space” and “something extra than Ikea,” — with out breaking the bank.

In 2013, Ee and Ji went electronic-very first with Castlery, permitting customers to view a digital studio and obtain household furniture on the web — a disruptor in the conventional home furniture business. 

“When customers started out to shop on line for furnishings, they understood that, ‘I really don’t need to have to go to 25 furniture outlets any longer.’ The subsequent time they require to obtain one thing, they will do it on line again.”

Discovering from ‘blow-ups’ 

Owning no experience in the home furniture retail business, Ee estimated he needed six to seven many years to learn the ropes, which is as very long as the “fund lifestyle” of VCs. 

“Straightaway, you can find a conflict … that is why tension happens — you you should not have clarity of considered, due to the fact you have to scale at all charge.”

Alternatively, Castlery’s initial investments arrived from relatives users and other entrepreneurs who have exited their organizations.

“At the core, it’s about constructing a superior foundation and a potent business that provides price to your concentrate on clients. That will usually translate no make any difference what, whether or not you want to provide or list your enterprise,” Ee claimed. 

Pandemic-accelerated growth 

We were growing so quickly, our faces were turning green.

Declan Ee

Co-founder, Castlery

And as millions of personnel ended up shut out of their workplaces and necessary to function from household, the “indicating of property” also altered, Ee observed. 

“It really is not just a location you come again to [after work]. You are performing your get the job done, you might be pursuing your passions, you have your young ones. How you furnish your household issues mainly because you might be spending a great deal far more time there.”

With far more people hunting to up grade their room, Castlery’s progress “accelerated,” said Ee.

“We were being growing so quickly, our faces had been turning eco-friendly.” 

In accordance to Castlery, the business grew “6 situations” through the pandemic, building around $100 million in the most new fiscal 12 months ending March 2022, and became profitable in 2020.

Castlery caters to city millennials who want an “inspiring space” with no breaking the lender, explained its co-founder Declan Ee.


Nevertheless, with or devoid of the pandemic, Ee thinks that Castlery’s largest providing issue is the design and performance of its goods. 

“I converse to consumers from the U.S. every thirty day period and they are like, ‘We like your washable assortment of sofas!’ I assumed, ‘Okay, it can be a matter?'”

“I guess being Asians, we are very practical,” he mentioned.

Ee additional: “They would reveal that in the U.S., you is not going to have this possibility at this price tag position.” In accordance to him, his home furniture is “20% to 30%” more cost-effective than related pieces in the market place.

Just about every selection is assigned a buyer, an engineer and a planner — this trio runs a perfectly-oiled device to assure products and solutions go to industry in a timely and cost-efficient fashion.


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