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

Declan Ee usually knew he preferred to run his very own enterprise. 

But when he graduated from University School London in 2006, he noticed his peers applying for employment at expenditure banking companies and decided to give it a consider.

His first gig? Lehman Brothers.

“I appreciated seeing how organizations labored on a world scale. So that was quite intriguing.”

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

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

… it really is about setting up a excellent basis and a powerful small business that offers benefit to your concentrate on consumers.

Declan Ee

Co-founder, Castlery

The 39-12 months-previous Singaporean did depart investment banking ultimately in 2016, to make his household furniture start-up, Castlery. 

Currently, the company is bringing in tens of millions and its contemporary parts can be observed in around 300,000 residences globally, said Castlery. CNBC Make It finds out how.

Furnishings for urban millennials 

It all started when Ee arrived back to Singapore 11 years ago and was furnishing his marital house. 

His fantastic close friend and co-founder Fred Ji was also on the lookout for affordable fashionable furnishing. 

“We shared a bond in that … [the process was] aggravating. We want to get the awesome pieces but they are so inaccessible.”

That is because of to matters like the price point and taking care of a number of lead-times of household furniture, he spelled out.

That is when they had the concept of offering economical, designer home furniture to “urban millennials” among 25 to 45 many years old. 

To incorporate to the client browsing encounter, there is a showroom in Singapore and pop-up shops throughout U.S. and Australia.


“This age team, you go by a lot of improve. You leave school, you start off building your career, you get married, you have a kid … We incorporate things to our homes,” the president of Castlery explained to CNBC Make It.

Ee wanted to present solutions to youthful grownups who want to have an “inspiring space” and “some thing more than Ikea,” — without the need of breaking the bank.

In 2013, Ee and Ji went electronic-initial with Castlery, permitting buyers to view a digital studio and obtain home furnishings on the net — a disruptor in the common furniture market. 

“When customers started out to store on the net for furnishings, they understood that, ‘I don’t need to have to go to 25 furnishings stores anymore.’ The up coming time they need to have to buy some thing, they will do it on-line yet again.”

Discovering from ‘blow-ups’ 

Owning no experience in the furnishings retail enterprise, Ee believed he needed 6 to seven years to grasp the ropes, which is as prolonged as the “fund daily life” of VCs. 

“Straightaway, there is certainly a conflict … that’s why pressure occurs — you do not have clarity of believed, for the reason that you have to scale at all price tag.”

Instead, Castlery’s first investments came from family members and other entrepreneurs who have exited their businesses.

“At the main, it can be about building a great foundation and a sturdy small business that gives benefit to your concentrate on buyers. That will normally translate no subject what, whether you want to provide or checklist your enterprise,” Ee mentioned. 

Pandemic-accelerated growth 

We have been expanding so fast, our faces were being turning eco-friendly.

Declan Ee

Co-founder, Castlery

And as tens of millions of workers had been shut out of their places of work and necessary to do the job from household, the “indicating of residence” also modified, Ee observed. 

“It is not just a spot you arrive 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 residence matters due to the fact you happen to be shelling out substantially a lot more time there.”

With extra people today looking to upgrade their room, Castlery’s progress “accelerated,” stated Ee.

“We have been expanding so rapidly, our faces were turning inexperienced.” 

In accordance to Castlery, the business grew “6 moments” throughout the pandemic, producing more than $100 million in the most latest money 12 months ending March 2022, and was lucrative in 2020.

Castlery caters to urban millennials who want an “inspiring place” devoid of breaking the bank, claimed its co-founder Declan Ee.


Even so, with or with out the pandemic, Ee believes that Castlery’s major offering stage is the layout and performance of its products and solutions. 

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

“I guess staying Asians, we are pretty sensible,” he reported.

Ee additional: “They would explain that in the U.S., you will not have this solution at this price tag stage.” In accordance to him, his home furniture is “20% to 30%” less expensive than equivalent pieces in the market.

Just about every selection is assigned a customer, an engineer and a planner — this trio operates a well-oiled machine to be certain goods go to sector in a timely and price tag-successful manner.