Henry Mortimer Interviews Alan Tsao, Founder + CEO at Tsao Baltimore Watch Company

By Henry Mortimer, citybiz Editor-at-Large

A self-proclaimed “watch geek,” Alan Tsao began collecting watches at about age 10, after receiving his first Fossil watch for his birthday. Ever since then, he says, he’s always had a watch on his wrist, spending hours admiring them— and occasionally taking them apart to see how everything worked.

And that obsession became a passion – and eventually a vocation — when he founded Tsao Baltimore LLC, a premium watch company located in Baltimore, in 2017. Tsao, who earned a Master’s degree in marketing and entrepreneurship in the University of Baltimore’s Merrick School of Business, is also obsessed with innovative marketing techniques and technology. For instance, Tsao decided to use Kickstarter to “pre-sell” his line of homegrown, affordable designer watches, rather than assuming the risk of inventory that might not move, he more than tripled his initial campaign goal of $40,000. Since then, he’s gone on to launch and sell out a half-dozen different, limited-edition timepieces based on the unique Tsao design, all with a Baltimore theme – also a major obsession — from the Torsk Diver, honoring Charm City’s maritime past, to a Ravens collection in time for the playoffs, and the latest design featuring a collaboration with the iconic Natty Boh. And all are still designed and assembled in Maryland.

These days, Tsao is again indulging his passion for innovation, this time by collaborating with partners to help bring disruptive technology to an industry that’s nearly 250 years old. The most recent collaboration is with Flux and their new product launch, the Titan “Legacy.” Through the partnership, each new Titan timepiece comes engraved and issued with its NFT from the Kadena-KDA blockchain, stored on the Flux network housed in Zelcore, a Web3 browser.

Although Tsao Baltimore has changed quite a bit since its founding nearly a decade ago, Tsao has never strayed from his core mission – to produce a quality product at an affordable price.

Connect with Alan on LinkedIn

Henry Mortimer, Director, The University of Baltimore’s Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation

Henry Mortimer has served as the director of The University of Baltimore’s Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation since August 2017. The Center, which celebrated its fifteenth anniversary in 2021, provides support and assistance to all UBalt undergraduate and graduate students who are intent on establishing an enterprise.

In his role as director of the Center, Mortimer has expanded on his well-established role as a facilitator, problem solver and source of inspiration for entrepreneurially-minded women and men in the metro region. The University of Baltimore, which was founded in 1925 by city-based business leaders who sought a way to educate Baltimore’s working adults, is ideally positioned to help entrepreneurs succeed.

Mortimer, founder of Baltimore-based Mortimer Communications and an important voice in the metropolitan area’s growing ecosystem for start-ups and small businesses, previously served as an entrepreneur-in-residence at UBalt. He also has been involved with a number of Baltimore-area incubators and business education providers, including ETC, Betamore and Towson University. He frequently teaches workshops for emerging and established entrepreneurs. Through his communications firm, which he founded in 2008, he helps entrepreneurs understand their niche in the local business community and how they can own their origin story―from “elevator speech” to strategic planning and execution.

Connect with Henry on LinkedIn

Interview Questions

Personal story | Your career combines several of your passions, including luxury watches, innovative marketing tactics, which you honed via an MBA at UBalt, and Baltimore’s history and lore. Can you share with us how you came to bring all of your passions together to form Tsao Baltimore? (reference to Kickstarter)

Vision | Since launching in 2017, you have successfully rolled out and sold out several limited-edition timepieces, expanding the business by collaborating with other companies, including a local watch band maker. Talk about the significance of those collaborations.

Keller partnership | In October 2022, Daniel Keller, Co-Founder of decentralized cloud infrastructure firm Flux, invested in Tsao Baltimore to help accelerate the development of a new technology with several goals in mind, including reducing counterfeits and increasing the transparency of high-end luxury watches. Talk about that partnership and what you hope to accomplish.

Innovation | With support from Flux, you are building an innovative and proprietary Certification of Authenticity system that can be stored on a blockchain wallet as a non-fungible token, or NFT. What are the advantages of this technology to you? To your customers?

Disruption | Using Zelcore, a Web3 browser built on top of Flux, will allow you to bring disruptive technology to an industry that’s nearly 250 years-old. What are the benefits of Web3 and blockchain technology for watchmaking? From your own customer discovery research, what behavioral barriers have you seen in the adoption of digital technology?

Competition | Rolex, Patek Philippe, and A. Lange & Söhne are some of the most popular brands in the luxury watch industry. Who are the main competitors now in your sector, and how is Tsao Baltimore different from other offerings? How would define your competitive advantage?

Business model | Can you walk us through your business and pricing model?

Funding | The Keller partnership afforded you a significant influx of capital, through which you have been experiencing rapid growth. Are you seeking to raise another round this year? If so, how do you plan to use the funds?

Next steps | What are the next steps for Tsao Baltimore, and what keeps you up at night?