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

ByElizabeth J. Bohn

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Declan Ee usually knew he desired to operate his own small business. 

But when he graduated from College University London in 2006, he observed his peers making use of for investment banking companies and decided to give it a check out.

His first gig? Lehman Brothers.

“I appreciated looking at how companies labored on a international scale. So that was quite appealing.”

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

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

… it is really about developing a very good foundation and a solid business enterprise that presents worth to your focus on customers.

Declan Ee

Co-founder, Castlery

The 39-year-aged Singaporean did depart financial commitment banking eventually in 2016, to create his household furniture start off-up, Castlery. 

Now, the organization is bringing in hundreds of thousands and its present day parts can be found in about 300,000 households globally, said Castlery. CNBC Make It finds out how.

Household furniture for urban millennials 

It all began when Ee came again to Singapore 11 yrs ago and was furnishing his marital home. 

His very good friend and co-founder Fred Ji was also seeking for cost-effective modern-day furnishing. 

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

That is because of to items like the rate stage and handling many lead-periods of home furniture, he described.

Which is when they had the thought of providing inexpensive, designer furnishings to “city millennials” involving 25 to 45 years aged. 

To add to the shopper buying encounter, there is a showroom in Singapore and pop-up merchants across U.S. and Australia.


“This age team, you go by way of a large amount of adjust. You depart school, you commence making your profession, you get married, you have a child … We include things to our homes,” the president of Castlery informed CNBC Make It.

Ee desired to supply choices to younger older people who want to have an “inspiring area” and “a little something much more than Ikea,” — with out breaking the bank.

In 2013, Ee and Ji went digital-initial with Castlery, enabling consumers to watch a digital studio and purchase furnishings online — a disruptor in the common home furnishings business. 

“When shoppers started to shop on the internet for home furnishings, they recognized that, ‘I really don’t require to go to 25 home furnishings retailers any more.’ The next time they have to have to acquire a thing, they will do it online again.”

Mastering from ‘blow-ups’ 

Having no encounter in the home furnishings retail company, Ee approximated he necessary six to seven a long time to learn the ropes, which is as prolonged as the “fund lifestyle” of VCs. 

“Straightaway, you will find a conflict … which is why anxiety happens — you never have clarity of assumed, for the reason that you have to scale at all price tag.”

Instead, Castlery’s initial investments came from household customers and other business owners who have exited their businesses.

“At the core, it really is about constructing a excellent foundation and a sturdy business that offers worth to your target buyers. That will usually translate no matter what, no matter whether you want to promote or record your firm,” Ee reported. 

Pandemic-accelerated growth 

We ended up expanding so quick, our faces were turning environmentally friendly.

Declan Ee

Co-founder, Castlery

And as hundreds of thousands of staff were being shut out of their workplaces and expected to do the job from property, the “which means of house” also modified, Ee observed. 

“It is really not just a area you arrive back again to [after work]. You are executing your get the job done, you might be pursuing your passions, you have your kids. How you furnish your home matters because you are shelling out considerably far more time there.”

With additional folks hunting to enhance their area, Castlery’s development “accelerated,” stated Ee.

“We were growing so rapidly, our faces have been turning green.” 

In accordance to Castlery, the enterprise grew “6 times” throughout the pandemic, producing around $100 million in the most the latest economical calendar year ending March 2022, and became successful in 2020.

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


< p>However, with or with out the pandemic, Ee thinks that Castlery’s greatest advertising issue is the layout and performance of its solutions. 

“I communicate to consumers from the U.S. each individual thirty day period and they are like, ‘We like your washable range of sofas!’ I imagined, ‘Okay, it is really a detail?'”

“I guess getting Asians, we are very simple,” he explained.

Ee added: “They would explain that in the U.S., you is not going to have this choice at this value stage.” In accordance to him, his furnishings is “20% to 30%” less costly than very similar pieces in the market place.

Every single selection is assigned a consumer, an engineer and a planner — this trio runs a effectively-oiled device to make sure goods go to market in a well timed and expense-productive manner.


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