Declan Ee, co-founder of Singapore-based online furniture store Castlery, has stressed that being a “people-person” isn’t always fun.
With nearly 20 year in the business, the 35-year-old, who also holds a law degree, has worked in the banking industry and writes music, cites people as his biggest headache.
In an interview with AsiaOne, Ee shared unfortunate times when people, especially those he trusted, let him down.
One was in his early 20s when he started a web and events company with a friend. The business almost went bankrupt because “a certain person whom we trusted to collect the down payments (from vendors) suddenly disappeared.”
Later, at one point in Castlery’s early days, he learned that a marketing employee took advantage of customers and product materials before resigning to join a competitor.
Such experiences could be traumatic for any budding entrepreneur. Ee and his partners, however, managed to keep going.
There was also a time in his undergraduate days when he produced a local charity musical that proved to be a learning experience. Admitting his early idealism, the theater enthusiast recalled:
“I was 22, 23, and thought that I’m going to prove to the world, that if we work hard enough, the impossible can be accomplished, so I hired a full cast of amateur actors. And I was very hard on them because I knew the standard that was necessary, and of course all of them were like, this guy is ‘siao’, and finally, it cracked.”
All the actors apparently bailed out. As a result, Ee had to reach them at the 11th hour, including the lead actress, to sign contracts that would guarantee their participation.
The experience taught Ee two important lessons, which he now applies in business and in life. The first of them is to not be a “dictator”:
“I learnt alot about myself, what I’m good at, what I’m not good at… I was quite the dictator I think, but I think also because I cared so much about it. Maybe too much.”
Second, is to let things be when they don’t go according to one’s way:
“Nothing will be done to your standards, not because your standards are better, but because you have a certain way of doing things. Other people’s way of doing things may not be like yours, but it may not be bad.”
Ee, who said that he “cares too much” about everything around him, added that one who considers going into business — and committing to a partner — must first know his/her own “character.” For him, this could mean streamlining services, as in the case of Castlery.
He told the Straits Times (via AsiaOne) last year:
“Furniture here is either Ikea or really expensive. There’s a lot of wastage in furniture retail — middleman mark-ups, storage and rental costs… We want to bring furniture to people directly from the makers.”
Needless to say, aspiring entrepreneurs usually have a long way to go, with many distractions and challenging hurdles along the journey. That being said, Ee has one advice which we could all follow:
“It takes that thing you really care about to bring it out in you… I think this personality is in everyone, you just have to find the thing you care about.”
“Take it from me, I’ve done an MNC, a start-up, a family business, music… everything I did – it’s the same kind of rubbish, just on a different scale. Only when you care, will you tolerate whatever crap comes your way.”