How a former Lehman Brothers banker turned the tables and built a pandemic-proof business

Declan E always knew he wanted to run his own business.

But when he graduated from University College London in 2006, he saw his peers applying for investment banks and decided to give it a try.

His first gig? Lehman Brothers.

“I loved seeing how businesses acted on a global scale. So it was very interesting.”

But the 2008 collapse of Lehman Brothers not only shook global markets, it was also a blow to EE.

“I was in the subprime mortgage division. I dodged reporters while driving to Lehman at Canary Wharf. It doubled down on me leaving banking at some point.”

… It’s about building a good foundation and a strong business that delivers value to your target customers.

Declan E

Co-Founder, Casselry

The 39-year-old Singaporean eventually left investment banking in 2016 to form his own furniture start-up, Castlerea.

Today, the trade is bringing in millions and its modern pieces can be found in more than 300,000 homes globally, Castleri said. CNBC Make It How does it know.

furniture for the urban millennial

It all started when E came back to Singapore 11 years ago and was decorating his matrimonial home.

His good friend and co-founder Fred G was also looking for affordable modern furnishings.

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

This is due to things like the price point and managing the furniture’s multiple lead-times, he explained.

That’s when he got the idea to sell affordable, designer furniture to “urban millennials” between the ages of 25 and 45.

To add to the customer shopping experience, there is a showroom in Singapore and pop-up stores in the US and Australia.


“In this age group, you go through a lot of changes. You leave school, you start your career, you get married, you have a child … We add stuff to our homes,” CNBC president told CNBC Make It.

Ee wants to provide options to young adults who want “inspirational spaces” and “something more” Ikea”, – without breaking the bank.

In 2013, E&G went digital-first with Castlery, allowing consumers to view a virtual studio and buy furniture online – a disruption in the traditional furniture industry.

“When customers started shopping for furniture online, they realized, ‘I don’t have to go to 25 furniture stores anymore.’ The next time they have to buy something, they’ll do it online again.”

Lessons from the ‘Jock’

E’s experience in investment banking, where he “saw many setbacks,” has taught him a thing or two about running his own business.

When it came to funding Casselry, EE “venture capital route” to their start-ups.

“With VC Games, you want to mock up your valuations every 18 months. And when we started, I knew we had to spend time learning the business,” he said.

With no experience in the furniture retail business, EE estimated that he needed six to seven years to master the ropes, which is as long as VC’s “fund life”.

“Straightly, there’s a conflict … so there’s tension – you don’t have clarity of thought, because you have to scale at all costs.”

Instead, Castleri’s initial investments came from family members and other entrepreneurs who have been out of their businesses.

“Basically, it’s about building a good foundation and a strong business that delivers value to your target customers. It doesn’t matter whether you want to sell or list your company.”

pandemic-accelerated development

In addition to its presence in Singapore and Australia, when the pandemic hit 2020, Casselry started expanding into the US market.

“I thought, wow, that’s not really meant to be. I was really stressed because our most profitable country was Singapore and there was circuit breaker too.” he was referring to partial lockdown In 2020, designed to break the chain of infection.

But his tension turned to surprise when he saw boom in e-commerceWith the nationwide lockdown in place, shoppers have been forced to rely on internet retailers for their consumer needs.

We were moving so fast, our faces were turning green.

Declan E

Co-Founder, Casselry

And as millions of employees moved out of their offices and were required to work from home, the meaning of “home” changed as well, EE observed.

“It’s not just a place where you come back [after work], You are doing your job, you are pursuing your passion, you have kids. How do you present your domestic affairs because you are spending more time there.”

With more people looking to upgrade their space, Casalari’s growth “accelerated,” E said.

“We were moving so fast, our faces were turning green.”

According to Castalri, the company grew “six times” during the pandemic, earned more than $100 million in the most recent fiscal year ending March 2022, and turned profitable in 2020.

Casselry caters to urban millennials who want an “inspirational space” without breaking the bank, said its co-founder Declan E.


However, with or without the pandemic, E believes Casalari’s biggest selling point is the design and functionality of its products.

“I talk to customers in the US every month and they say, ‘We love your washable sofa!’ I thought, ‘Okay, that’s it?'”

“I think being Asian, we are quite practical,” he said.

EE said: “They will explain that in the US, you won’t have this option at this price point.” According to her, their furniture is “20% to 30%” cheaper than similar pieces on the market.

Each collection is assigned a buyer, an engineer and a planner – the trio operate a well-oiled machine to bring products to market in a timely and cost-effective manner.

This has been achieved through a “rigorous process refined over the years,” Eee said.

“Each collection is assigned a buyer, an engineer, and a planner—the trio operates a well-oiled machine to bring products to market in a timely and cost-effective manner.”

He added: “[The] The buyer finds best in class manufacturers to work with. Engineers redesign inefficient processes while a planner works to source materials at the best possible price point.”

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