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

ByBilly Alsman

Jul 10, 2022 , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


Declan Ee constantly realized he wished to operate his possess organization. 

But when he graduated from College University London in 2006, he noticed his friends implementing for work opportunities at financial commitment banking companies and made a decision to give it a check out.

His initially gig? Lehman Brothers.

“I liked viewing how firms labored on a world-wide scale. So that was incredibly interesting.”

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

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

… it is about creating a superior basis and a robust company that provides benefit to your goal prospects.

Declan Ee

Co-founder, Castlery

The 39-year-aged Singaporean did depart financial commitment banking at some point in 2016, to establish his household furniture start off-up, Castlery. 

These days, the company is bringing in thousands and thousands and its modern items can be found in about 300,000 homes globally, claimed Castlery. CNBC Make It finds out how.

Home furniture for city millennials 

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

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

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

That is because of to points like the value point and taking care of numerous guide-times of home furnishings, he spelled out.

Which is when they had the idea of providing reasonably priced, designer household furniture to “city millennials” among 25 to 45 decades previous. 

To increase to the customer purchasing expertise, there is a showroom in Singapore and pop-up merchants throughout U.S. and Australia.


“This age group, you go via a whole lot of alter. You go away university, you commence setting up your vocation, you get married, you have a kid … We increase stuff to our residences,” the president of Castlery explained to CNBC Make It.

Ee desired to present solutions to youthful older people who want to have an “inspiring space” and “one thing more than Ikea,” — with out breaking the bank.

In 2013, Ee and Ji went digital-first with Castlery, enabling individuals to perspective a digital studio and buy home furniture on line — a disruptor in the standard furniture market. 

“When customers started off to store on the web for home furnishings, they understood that, ‘I really don’t need to go to 25 household furniture stores any longer.’ The future time they want to buy anything, they will do it on-line once more.”

Learning from ‘blow-ups’ 

Obtaining no encounter in the home furnishings retail small business, Ee estimated he desired 6 to 7 several years to master the ropes, which is as extensive as the “fund life” of VCs. 

“Straightaway, you can find a conflict … that is why stress comes about — you do not have clarity of assumed, because you have to scale at all price.”

Alternatively, Castlery’s original investments arrived from family members members and other business people who have exited their companies.

“At the core, it is really about building a great foundation and a potent small business that presents value to your target prospects. That will always translate no make any difference what, no matter if you want to offer or listing your enterprise,” Ee said. 

Pandemic-accelerated growth 

We ended up escalating so quick, our faces had been turning inexperienced.

Declan Ee

Co-founder, Castlery

And as tens of millions of employees ended up shut out of their workplaces and needed to operate from home, the “that means of house” also modified, Ee observed. 

“It’s not just a spot you occur back to [after work]. You are executing your do the job, you’re pursuing your passions, you have your kids. How you furnish your household matters since you’re paying considerably extra time there.”

With more folks on the lookout to upgrade their room, Castlery’s growth “accelerated,” stated Ee.

“We had been growing so quick, our faces were turning eco-friendly.” 

According to Castlery, the corporation grew “six periods” in the course of the pandemic, making over $100 million in the most modern economical yr ending March 2022, and was successful in 2020.

Castlery caters to city millennials who want an “inspiring space” without breaking the lender, claimed its co-founder Declan Ee.


Nevertheless, with or without the need of the pandemic, Ee believes that Castlery’s most significant offering level is the style and functionality of its merchandise. 

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

“I guess getting Asians, we are quite functional,” he explained.

Ee extra: “They would explain that in the U.S., you won’t have this choice at this cost issue.” In accordance to him, his home furnishings is “20% to 30%” more cost-effective than similar items in the sector.

Just about every selection is assigned a buyer, an engineer and a planner — this trio operates a effectively-oiled equipment to make sure items go to market in a timely and price tag-economical method.


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