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

Kennith Bogan

Declan Ee usually realized he desired to run his individual business. 

But when he graduated from University Higher education London in 2006, he saw his friends implementing for work at financial commitment banks and determined to give it a check out.

His first gig? Lehman Brothers.

“I preferred seeing how corporations worked on a world-wide scale. So that was really exciting.”

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

“I was in the subprime home 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 truly is about developing a good basis and a potent business that presents price to your focus on customers.

Declan Ee

Co-founder, Castlery

The 39-calendar year-outdated Singaporean did go away financial investment banking inevitably in 2016, to establish his furniture begin-up, Castlery. 

Currently, the business is bringing in hundreds of thousands and its contemporary parts can be identified in around 300,000 households globally, explained Castlery. CNBC Make It finds out how.

Household furniture for city millennials 

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

His excellent close friend and co-founder Fred Ji was also on the lookout for economical modern furnishing. 

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

That is owing to points like the value stage and taking care of a number of direct-situations of home furniture, he discussed.

That’s when they had the idea of providing very affordable, designer household furniture to “city millennials” between 25 to 45 several years previous. 

To insert to the buyer purchasing practical experience, there is a showroom in Singapore and pop-up shops throughout U.S. and Australia.


“This age group, you go as a result of a good deal of modify. You leave faculty, you start out developing your job, you get married, you have a kid … We insert things to our houses,” the president of Castlery explained to CNBC Make It.

Ee needed to supply solutions to youthful adults who want to have an “inspiring area” and “some thing far more than Ikea,” — with no breaking the financial institution.

In 2013, Ee and Ji went electronic-1st with Castlery, enabling individuals to view a virtual studio and purchase furnishings on-line — a disruptor in the conventional furniture market. 

“When customers started to shop online for furniture, they recognized that, ‘I really don’t need to have to go to 25 furnishings shops anymore.’ The up coming time they have to have to acquire something, they will do it on the net again.”

Understanding from ‘blow-ups’ 

Acquiring no working experience in the home furnishings retail business, Ee approximated he needed six to seven many years to grasp the ropes, which is as lengthy as the “fund lifestyle” of VCs. 

“Straightaway, there is certainly a conflict … that is why pressure happens — you do not have clarity of considered, mainly because you have to scale at all charge.”

Instead, Castlery’s first investments came from loved ones members and other entrepreneurs who have exited their companies.

“At the core, it is really about making a good basis and a powerful business that presents value to your concentrate on prospects. That will often translate no make any difference what, irrespective of whether you want to sell or listing your organization,” Ee claimed. 

Pandemic-accelerated growth 

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

Declan Ee

Co-founder, Castlery

And as tens of millions of workforce were being shut out of their places of work and essential to perform from dwelling, the “this means of residence” also altered, Ee noticed. 

“It’s not just a area you appear back again to [after work]. You are doing your do the job, you’re pursuing your passions, you have your youngsters. How you furnish your home matters since you might be investing substantially additional time there.”

With extra men and women searching to update their space, Castlery’s growth “accelerated,” mentioned Ee.

“We ended up growing so quick, our faces were turning inexperienced.” 

In accordance to Castlery, the organization grew “six periods” all through the pandemic, producing around $100 million in the most recent financial calendar year ending March 2022, and was lucrative in 2020.

Castlery caters to city millennials who want an “inspiring area” without breaking the financial institution, stated its co-founder Declan Ee.


Even so, with or without having the pandemic, Ee thinks that Castlery’s major promoting stage is the style and design and functionality of its solutions. 

“I discuss to clients from the U.S. just about every month and they are like, ‘We enjoy your washable vary of sofas!’ I thought, ‘Okay, it really is a factor?'”

“I guess becoming Asians, we are rather useful,” he mentioned.

Ee additional: “They would explain that in the U.S., you will not likely have this choice at this rate issue.” In accordance to him, his home furniture is “20% to 30%” less expensive than very similar items in the sector.

Each assortment is assigned a consumer, an engineer and a planner — this trio operates a nicely-oiled device to be certain products and solutions go to industry in a timely and price-productive way.

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