How this former Lehman Brothers banker constructed a pandemic-proof enterprise

Declan Ee all the time knew he wished to run his personal enterprise. 

However when he graduated from College Faculty London in 2006, he noticed his friends making use of for jobs at funding banks and determined to offer it a attempt.

His first gig? Lehman Brothers.

“I favored seeing how companies labored on a worldwide scale. In order that was very attention-grabbing.”

However the 2008 collapse of Lehman Brothers not solely roiled international markets, it was a shake-up for Ee too.

“I used to be within the subprime mortgage division. I dodged reporters whereas strolling to Lehman in Canary Wharf. It made me double down on leaving banking in some unspecified time in the future.”

… it is about constructing an excellent basis and a robust enterprise that provides worth to your goal clients.

Declan Ee

Co-founder, Castlery

The 39-year-old Singaporean did depart funding banking ultimately in 2016, to construct his furnishings start-up, Castlery. 

At present, the enterprise is bringing in hundreds of thousands and its trendy items may be present in over 300,000 houses globally, mentioned Castlery. CNBC Make It finds out how.

Furnishings for city millennials 

It began when Ee got here again to Singapore 11 years in the past and was furnishing his marital residence. 

His good buddy and co-founder Fred Ji was additionally searching for inexpensive trendy furnishing. 

“We shared a bond in that … [the process was] irritating. We need to get the great items however they’re so inaccessible.”

That is because of issues like the value level and managing a number of lead-times of furnishings, he defined.

That is after they had the thought of promoting inexpensive, designer furnishings to “city millennials” between 25 to 45 years outdated. 

So as to add to the client purchasing expertise, there’s a showroom in Singapore and pop-up shops throughout U.S. and Australia.


“This age group, you undergo a number of change. You permit faculty, you begin constructing your profession, you get married, you have got a child … We add stuff to our houses,” the president of Castlery instructed CNBC Make It.

Ee wished to supply choices to younger adults who need to have an “inspiring house” and “one thing greater than Ikea,” — with out breaking the financial institution.

In 2013, Ee and Ji went digital-first with Castlery, permitting shoppers to view a digital studio and buy furnishings on-line — a disruptor within the conventional furnishings business. 

“When clients began to buy on-line for furnishings, they realized that, ‘I need not go to 25 furnishings shops anymore.’ The following time they should purchase one thing, they’ll do it on-line once more.”

Studying from ‘blow-ups’ 

Ee’s expertise in funding banking, the place he “noticed many blow-ups,” has taught him a factor or two about working his personal enterprise. 

When it got here to financing Castlery, Ee was decided to not go down the “enterprise capital route” too early for his start-up.

“With the VC recreation, you need to mock up your valuation each 18 months. And after we began, I knew that we needed to spend time studying the enterprise,” he mentioned. 

Having no expertise within the furnishings retail enterprise, Ee estimated he wanted six to seven years to grasp the ropes, which is so long as the “fund life” of VCs. 

“Straightaway, there is a battle … that is why stress occurs — you do not have readability of thought, as a result of you need to scale in any respect price.”

As a substitute, Castlery’s preliminary investments got here from members of the family and different entrepreneurs who’ve exited their companies.

“On the core, it is about constructing an excellent basis and a robust enterprise that provides worth to your goal clients. That may all the time translate it doesn’t matter what, whether or not you need to promote or checklist your organization,” Ee mentioned. 

Pandemic-accelerated development 

When the pandemic hit in 2020, Castlery had simply begun growth into the U.S. market, aside from its presence in Singapore and Australia. 

“I believed, wow, that is actually not meant to be. I used to be actually confused as a result of our most worthwhile nation was Singapore and there was the circuit breaker too.” He was referring to partial lockdowns in 2020, designed to interrupt the chain of an infection. 

However his stress turned to shock as he noticed a surge in e-commerce, with nationwide lockdowns pushing customers to depend on web retailers for his or her client wants. 

We had been rising so quick, our faces had been turning inexperienced.

Declan Ee

Co-founder, Castlery

And as hundreds of thousands of workers had been shut out of their workplaces and required to work at home, the “which means of residence” additionally modified, Ee noticed. 

“It isn’t only a place you come again to [after work]. You’re doing all your work, you are pursuing your passions, you have got your children. The way you furnish your own home issues since you’re spending rather more time there.”

With extra folks seeking to improve their house, Castlery’s development “accelerated,” mentioned Ee.

“We had been rising so quick, our faces had been turning inexperienced.” 

In line with Castlery, the corporate grew “six occasions” throughout the pandemic, making over $100 million in the latest monetary 12 months ending March 2022, and was worthwhile in 2020.

Castlery caters to city millennials who need an “inspiring house” with out breaking the financial institution, mentioned its co-founder Declan Ee.


Nevertheless, with or with out the pandemic, Ee believes that Castlery’s largest promoting level is the design and performance of its merchandise. 

“I converse to clients from the U.S. each month and they’re like, ‘We love your washable vary of sofas!’ I believed, ‘Okay, it is a factor?'”

“I suppose being Asians, we’re fairly sensible,” he mentioned.

Ee added: “They’d clarify that within the U.S., you will not have this selection at this value level.” In line with him, his furnishings is “20% to 30%” cheaper than related items available in the market.

Every assortment is assigned a purchaser, an engineer and a planner — this trio runs a well-oiled machine to make sure merchandise go to market in a well timed and cost-efficient method.

That’s achieved by a “rigorous course of refined over time,” mentioned Ee.

“Every assortment is assigned a purchaser, an engineer and a planner — this trio runs a well-oiled machine to make sure merchandise go to market in a well timed and cost-efficient method.”

He added: “[The] purchaser finds the very best in school producers to work with. Engineers redesign inefficient processes whereas a planner works to supply supplies at the very best value level.”

Do not miss: Why Kevin O’Leary says each teen ought to make investments a part of their summer season job earnings

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Clarification: This story was up to date to make clear the timeline for when Castlery thought it ought to search enterprise capital funding. It was additionally up to date to replicate the corporate was worthwhile in 2020.

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