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

Edna B. Shearer

Declan Ee constantly knew he preferred to run his individual small business. 

But when he graduated from University Higher education London in 2006, he saw his peers making use of for financial commitment banking companies and determined to give it a try.

His first gig? Lehman Brothers.

“I preferred viewing how organizations worked on a world wide scale. So that was really interesting.”

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

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

… it is about making a fantastic foundation and a sturdy business enterprise that presents benefit to your target prospects.

Declan Ee

Co-founder, Castlery

The 39-yr-aged Singaporean did go away financial commitment banking inevitably in 2016, to establish his furnishings start-up, Castlery. 

Currently, the organization is bringing in hundreds of thousands and its modern-day parts can be located in around 300,000 residences globally, claimed Castlery. CNBC Make It finds out how.

Furniture for city millennials 

It all commenced when Ee arrived again to Singapore 11 a long time back and was furnishing his marital residence. 

His excellent mate and co-founder Fred Ji was also looking for reasonably priced modern day furnishing. 

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

That is due to matters like the value point and handling many lead-occasions of home furnishings, he described.

That’s when they had the thought of promoting affordable, designer household furniture to “city millennials” involving 25 to 45 many years previous. 

To insert to the shopper buying expertise, there is a showroom in Singapore and pop-up outlets across U.S. and Australia.


“This age team, you go through a ton of adjust. You depart school, you start developing your occupation, you get married, you have a kid … We add stuff to our homes,” the president of Castlery informed CNBC Make It.

Ee wanted to supply selections to younger adults who want to have an “inspiring house” and “some thing much more than Ikea,” — with no breaking the lender.

In 2013, Ee and Ji went electronic-to start with with Castlery, enabling people to view a digital studio and invest in furnishings on the internet — a disruptor in the standard furnishings business. 

“When clients began to store on-line for home furnishings, they understood that, ‘I do not have to have to go to 25 home furniture retailers any more.’ The following time they need to have to purchase one thing, they will do it on the net all over again.”

Discovering from ‘blow-ups’ 

Possessing no knowledge in the household furniture retail small business, Ee estimated he required 6 to seven many years to learn the ropes, which is as extensive as the “fund life” of VCs. 

“Straightaway, there is certainly a conflict … which is why strain occurs — you don’t have clarity of believed, because you have to scale at all price tag.”

Alternatively, Castlery’s preliminary investments arrived from loved ones members and other entrepreneurs who have exited their corporations.

“At the main, it really is about constructing a good foundation and a sturdy enterprise that provides worth to your concentrate on prospects. That will normally translate no matter what, whether you want to market or listing your business,” Ee reported. 

Pandemic-accelerated growth 

We were escalating so quickly, our faces were turning environmentally friendly.

Declan Ee

Co-founder, Castlery

And as hundreds of thousands of staff members had been shut out of their places of work and required to get the job done from house, the “indicating of dwelling” also transformed, Ee observed. 

“It really is not just a spot you arrive back again to [after work]. You are accomplishing your function, you might be pursuing your passions, you have your young ones. How you furnish your dwelling issues for the reason that you’re shelling out a great deal more time there.”

With far more men and women on the lookout to up grade their room, Castlery’s expansion “accelerated,” mentioned Ee.

“We have been developing so fast, our faces have been turning eco-friendly.” 

In accordance to Castlery, the business grew “six occasions” during the pandemic, creating in excess of $100 million in the most the latest financial calendar year ending March 2022, and became worthwhile in 2020.

Castlery caters to city millennials who want an “inspiring house” without breaking the bank, said its co-founder Declan Ee.


Nevertheless, with or with no the pandemic, Ee believes that Castlery’s greatest selling point is the style and functionality of its products. 

“I speak to customers from the U.S. every single month and they are like, ‘We enjoy your washable assortment of sofas!’ I considered, ‘Okay, it really is a factor?'”

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

Ee included: “They would make clear that in the U.S., you won’t have this option at this rate issue.” According to him, his home furnishings is “20% to 30%” more cost-effective than related pieces in the market.

Every selection is assigned a purchaser, an engineer and a planner — this trio operates a well-oiled equipment to make sure solutions go to industry in a timely and value-efficient method.

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