Alan Tsao got his first watch when he was 10 years old. He’s always been fascinated by how watches worked — the different components involved and the timekeeping function itself.
Now timepieces are the center of the University of Baltimore alum’s entrepreneurial pursuits.
“I wanted to create my own watch company that offered incredible quality utilizing great component great parts, but was attainable,” he said. That vision became Tsao Baltimore.
He plans to build a distinctly Baltimore brand, espousing a goal to become “Baltimore’s premium watch company.”
Tsao Baltimore’s forthcoming second line of watches reflects both of those goals. The Torsk-Diver is named after the USS Torsk, a decommissioned WWII-era submarine that now makes port at Inner Harbor. It’s also assembled locally, and a portion of the proceeds will go to Historic Ships in Baltimore.
The dive watch is the product of a year of work on prototyping and design, and will be assembled locally. Tsao said the run will include 846 watches, with 423 with stainless steel cases and 423 with bronze cases. It’s so numbered after the Torsk’s call sign — SS 423. A corresponding watch winder was inspired by a periscope.
“What better symbol for a dive watch than a submarine?” he said.
Tsao is funding the line through Kickstarter, with the crowdfunding campaign serving as a preorder for the watches at the lowest price they will ever be. Upon launch on Feb. 11, the $75,000 campaign goal was fully funded, with $100,000 surpassed in three hours. As of 3 p.m. on Feb. 18, it’s now at $169,712 from 409 backers.
“I knew it was attainable, but didn’t expect the amount of traction it generated in the first few minutes,” he said.
It’s the second Kickstarter campaign for the company, following an initial product with a Maryland flag in 2017. The combination of a consumer product and specific market make it a good fit for the platform, Tsao said. Pre-marketing ahead of the launch contributed to the immediate response.
In the long run, Tsao wants to open a boutique where customers can see the watches being assembled. He sees the sense of community belonging in brands like Shinola Detroit, and sees potential to create that connection in Baltimore. But in the immediate term he’s focused on reaching out to new audiences with the major campaign, and then getting Torsk-Diver watches shipped.
In building a Baltimore brand, Tsao hasn’t been shy about digging in locally. We first saw him when he pitched at the University of Baltimore’s Attman Competitive Business Prize competition in 2017. He’s also been a regular at the UB’s Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, where its director, Henry Mortimer, said Tsao got access to mentors and made connections.
“He represents exactly what we strive for at [the center], and that is to foster the growth of strong businesses in Baltimore,” Mortimer said.-30-
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