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


Declan Ee usually knew he wanted to run his very own organization. 

But when he graduated from College University London in 2006, he observed his peers making use of for expense financial institutions and made the decision to give it a try.

His 1st gig? Lehman Brothers.

“I liked observing how corporations worked on a global scale. So that was very exciting.”

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

“I was in the subprime property finance loan division. I dodged reporters whilst walking to Lehman in Canary Wharf. It made me double down on leaving banking at some position.”

… it truly is about building a excellent foundation and a strong enterprise that offers benefit to your focus on clients.

Declan Ee

Co-founder, Castlery

The 39-12 months-outdated Singaporean did leave financial commitment banking ultimately in 2016, to create his furnishings start-up, Castlery. 

These days, the small business is bringing in thousands and thousands and its contemporary pieces can be uncovered in around 300,000 houses globally, stated Castlery. CNBC Make It finds out how.

Home furnishings for city millennials 

It all started off when Ee came again to Singapore 11 years back and was furnishing his marital residence. 

His excellent good friend and co-founder Fred Ji was also searching for reasonably priced modern-day furnishing. 

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

That is because of to things like the rate point and controlling many lead-times of home furniture, he defined.

That is when they experienced the thought of promoting inexpensive, designer household furniture to “city millennials” involving 25 to 45 a long time outdated. 

To increase to the buyer buying encounter, there is a showroom in Singapore and pop-up shops throughout U.S. and Australia.


“This age group, you go through a whole lot of transform. You go away college, you get started constructing your vocation, you get married, you have a kid … We incorporate stuff to our houses,” the president of Castlery advised CNBC Make It.

Ee desired to supply possibilities to young grown ups who want to have an “inspiring room” and “a thing far more than Ikea,” — devoid of breaking the financial institution.

In 2013, Ee and Ji went electronic-very first with Castlery, enabling consumers to view a digital studio and obtain home furniture online — a disruptor in the standard home furniture business. 

“When clients started off to store online for home furnishings, they realized that, ‘I never will need to go to 25 home furniture suppliers anymore.’ The following time they want to acquire anything, they will do it on the web again.”

Mastering from ‘blow-ups’ 

Having no expertise in the home furniture retail business enterprise, Ee approximated he needed 6 to seven a long time to master the ropes, which is as extensive as the “fund existence” of VCs. 

“Straightaway, you can find a conflict … that’s why stress transpires — you you should not have clarity of imagined, mainly because you have to scale at all charge.”

In its place, Castlery’s initial investments came from loved ones users and other entrepreneurs who have exited their organizations.

“At the core, it really is about developing a excellent foundation and a powerful small business that presents value to your target consumers. That will often translate no make a difference what, regardless of whether you want to market or list your business,” Ee said. 

Pandemic-accelerated growth 

We were increasing so speedy, our faces have been turning environmentally friendly.

Declan Ee

Co-founder, Castlery

And as tens of millions of personnel had been shut out of their workplaces and demanded to perform from household, the “indicating of property” also adjusted, Ee noticed. 

“It truly is not just a place you arrive again to [after work]. You are doing your get the job done, you are pursuing your passions, you have your young ones. How you furnish your dwelling issues since you’re expending substantially more time there.”

With much more individuals hunting to up grade their room, Castlery’s growth “accelerated,” said Ee.

“We have been increasing so rapid, our faces were turning environmentally friendly.” 

According to Castlery, the corporation grew “six times” all through the pandemic, building more than $100 million in the most the latest money yr ending March 2022, and became successful in 2020.

Castlery caters to urban millennials who want an “inspiring room” with no breaking the financial institution, claimed its co-founder Declan Ee.


Having said that, with or with no the pandemic, Ee thinks that Castlery’s greatest offering position is the design and style and performance of its products and solutions. 

“I discuss to consumers from the U.S. just about every thirty day period and they are like, ‘We really like your washable selection of sofas!’ I considered, ‘Okay, it really is a factor?'”

“I guess being Asians, we are fairly realistic,” he explained.

Ee included: “They would reveal that in the U.S., you will not have this solution at this rate point.” In accordance to him, his home furnishings is “20% to 30%” cheaper than comparable pieces in the market.

Each individual assortment is assigned a buyer, an engineer and a planner — this trio runs a nicely-oiled machine to ensure products go to industry in a timely and value-successful manner.


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