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

Declan Ee generally understood he preferred to run his personal company. 

But when he graduated from University Higher education London in 2006, he noticed his friends implementing for employment at financial investment banking institutions and decided to give it a consider.

His to start with gig? Lehman Brothers.

“I liked observing how corporations worked on a world scale. So that was pretty appealing.”

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

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

… it is really about constructing a good foundation and a strong business that presents benefit to your target consumers.

Declan Ee

Co-founder, Castlery

The 39-yr-previous Singaporean did depart expense banking ultimately in 2016, to create his home furnishings commence-up, Castlery. 

Right now, the enterprise is bringing in thousands and thousands and its contemporary parts can be located in more than 300,000 properties globally, reported Castlery. CNBC Make It finds out how.

Home furnishings for urban millennials 

It all started out when Ee arrived back again to Singapore 11 years in the past and was furnishing his marital dwelling. 

His great buddy and co-founder Fred Ji was also on the lookout for very affordable modern-day furnishing. 

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

That is due to things like the price tag issue and controlling a number of guide-times of furnishings, he defined.

That’s when they experienced the idea of promoting affordable, designer furniture to “urban millennials” between 25 to 45 a long time aged. 

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


“This age team, you go via a lot of adjust. You go away university, you commence creating your profession, you get married, you have a child … We insert things to our households,” the president of Castlery explained to CNBC Make It.

Ee wished to present alternatives to youthful older people who want to have an “inspiring house” and “one thing far more than Ikea,” — without breaking the lender.

In 2013, Ee and Ji went electronic-initially with Castlery, making it possible for customers to look at a digital studio and invest in home furniture on-line — a disruptor in the conventional furniture field. 

“When prospects started off to store on line for home furnishings, they realized that, ‘I really don’t require to go to 25 home furniture shops any more.’ The next time they want to buy a little something, they will do it online again.”

Studying from ‘blow-ups’ 

Acquiring no encounter in the furnishings retail business, Ee believed he essential six to 7 several years to master the ropes, which is as long as the “fund lifetime” of VCs. 

“Straightaway, there is certainly a conflict … that is why worry takes place — you do not have clarity of believed, because you have to scale at all price.”

Rather, Castlery’s original investments arrived from loved ones members and other business people who have exited their businesses.

“At the core, it is about making a fantastic basis and a sturdy enterprise that presents worth to your target customers. That will generally translate no issue what, whether you want to offer or record your firm,” Ee explained. 

Pandemic-accelerated growth 

We have been increasing so quickly, our faces had been turning inexperienced.

Declan Ee

Co-founder, Castlery

And as millions of staff members ended up shut out of their places of work and demanded to work from house, the “indicating of dwelling” also changed, Ee observed. 

“It can be not just a position you occur back again to [after work]. You are doing your do the job, you might be pursuing your passions, you have your young ones. How you furnish your house issues simply because you might be spending a lot additional time there.”

With a lot more people wanting to improve their room, Castlery’s expansion “accelerated,” stated Ee.

“We were expanding so quick, our faces had been turning green.” 

According to Castlery, the business grew “6 periods” all through the pandemic, building in excess of $100 million in the most latest economical 12 months ending March 2022, and was successful in 2020.

Castlery caters to urban millennials who want an “inspiring house” without having breaking the bank, mentioned its c
o-founder Declan Ee.


However, with or with no the pandemic, Ee thinks that Castlery’s biggest selling position is the structure and performance of its products. 

“I discuss to buyers from the U.S. every single thirty day period and they are like, ‘We like your washable variety of sofas!’ I believed, ‘Okay, it really is a detail?'”

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

Ee added: “They would describe that in the U.S., you is not going to have this alternative at this price point.” According to him, his home furniture is “20% to 30%” much less expensive than related items in the market place.

Each collection is assigned a consumer, an engineer and a planner — this trio runs a well-oiled equipment to ensure solutions go to market in a well timed and value-economical fashion.