Alan Tsao wants to make time to talk with you about watches.

He received his first watch, an orange Fossil, when he was 10 years old. His admiration of the classic timekeepers led to a collection and, starting in 2017, his own watch business, Tsao Baltimore.

Tsao, 35 and a father of two, was born, raised and educated in Baltimore. He proudly incorporates his love of Baltimore into his watches: A collaboration with beer company National Bohemian, lovingly known as Natty Boh, produced limited-edition watches that sold out.

About ‘In Good Company’

This is the first in a series of casual conversations with Maryland small-business owners. If you or someone you know wants to participate, send an email to reporter Bria Overs:

And now he has his hands on some steel from the destroyed Key Bridge. His goal is to make watches out of the material “right here in Maryland, which would be really cool,” he said.

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Tsao went full-time with the business in November 2022 and earlier this year opened a Hampden showroom, where customers can take a closer look at the watches and leave more educated on the history and value of timepieces.

Smartwatches may come, but Tsao’s love of the classic watch prevails.

“Watches are more than just telling time,” he said. “It’s like a story on your wrist. It’s a conversation piece.”

The Baltimore Banner: What made you decide to start your own business?

Alan Tsao: I’ve always been someone who liked to tinker with their hands. And I’ve always wanted to start something from scratch and see it go through from the design to the product, to getting into people’s hands.

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I started the first and second designs on Kickstarter, a crowdfunding website, and it did really well. We generated about $115,000 in preorder sales for our first model. Then when we launched our second one back in 2019, called the Torsk Diver — named after the USS Torsk submarine right in our harbor — we generated about $200,000 in pre-order sales.

We’ve been growing every year, and the fact that I’m able to do what I’m truly passionate about just really drew me in. A lot of luck too — right time, right moment, a lot of luck.

Alan Tsao, owner of Tsao Baltimore, displays one of his watch collaborations with National Bohemian in his Hampden showroom on June 14, 2024. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

The Banner: Take us into your day-to-day routine. What’s it like being a business owner?

Tsao: Well, I wake up in the morning, get the kids ready for breakfast and daycare. Once I drop them off, I start fulfilling the orders from the day before. After I finish that, I go to the gym for about an hour. Then I head over to the showroom in Hampden, where we have some scheduled appointments.

I do a lot of my design work there, do some content work like photos, videos and stuff like that all in the showroom.

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Then, roughly around 5 p.m., we pick up the kids and of course, it’s dinner time and so forth. But then my workday starts over again around 9 p.m. when the kids are asleep.

I start designing more, start working on more collaborative projects. I seem to design a lot better between 9 p.m. and 12 a.m.

The Banner: I’m going to ask this question with the feeling that you might say your kids, but what’s the highlight of your day, other than spending time with your kids?

Tsao: My favorite thing is probably when someone comes to the shop. When someone comes in, we’re able to talk about watches and if any of my designs fit their criteria.

Whether they’re big watch people or this is their first watch, it’s just really nice to talk to someone. Educating them on the features or just talking about watches. “Watch talk” — it’s fun.

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Alan Tsao, owner of Tsao Baltimore, photographs one of his timepieces in his Hampden showroom on June 14, 2024. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

The Banner: What do you wish people knew about your business or the watch industry?

Tsao: All of our timepieces are assembled in Maryland, which is unique. It’s what differentiates us from a lot of other brands out there. Our price point, it’s not necessarily on the affordable end, but it’s on the attainable side — generally under $1,000. But we make sure that we have our quality standards.

Our watchmaker is based out of Hagerstown. He’s a third-generation watchmaker, and he’s certified in Omega [a luxury watchmaker from Switzerland], so he knows what he’s doing, which is great.

The Banner: You’re based in the city of Baltimore. What’s the appeal of doing business here?

Tsao: I was born and raised in Baltimore. The goal has always been to be in Baltimore and support local, homegrown businesses. There’s a certain heart in Maryland and Baltimore.

Baltimore is more than whatever negative press it occasionally gets here and there. So having a watch company based in the city, we just want to bring out some good light and cool, innovative designs.