Alan Tsao: Just Watch Him Succeed
What time is it?
If Alan Tsao, B.S. '11, currently an MBA student in the University of Baltimore's Merrick School of Business, has anything to say about it, pretty soon it will be "Alan time." Tsao, a native of Timonium, Md., is the creator and owner of Tsao Baltimore, a new company that is making and selling Tsao's own line of luxury watches.
Yes, in 2017, a young person is into watches—so much so that he has made it his business and his passion in life.
"I've had a passion for watches since I was 10 years old," Tsao says.
He recalls starting a watch collection at about that age—a Fossil watch with a bright orange face was probably his first, he says—and spending hours admiring the look and feel of the object, not to mention its purposefulness as a tool that has evolved with humankind through the centuries.
"A watch is a sophisticated thing," Tsao says. "All of the details, the texture and the features. I think of a watch as a confidence booster."
He's not the only one. A recent article in Fast Company declares that "Old school watches are back in vogue and millennials are leading the way—as both consumers and makers."
Contrary to what the ubiquity of smartphones might lead us to believe, sales of analog watches have been climbing for the past few years. Even the advent of the digital watch—basically a wearable computer that can play a key role for those who are tracking their fitness or daily routines—has done little to tamp down that trend.
"A lot of people are living a healthier lifestyle and a smartwatch can help," Tsao says. "I think all of these trends are about the same thing."
In fact, Fast Company points out that millennials are interested in a bespoke item, but not the shiny, sometimes gaudy watch that practically screams, "Look at me—I'm a big deal!" Instead, the popularity of wristwatches these days appears to be about a quietly elegant, closely detailed object that is similar to a small-batch bourbon or an understated sports coupe (configured by the customer online, of course). Tsao, who made sure that his name is a prominent part of his branded product line, appears to have caught a growing wave.
"The look of everything, including the logo, the website, the video, and the design of every watch, is mine," he says. "But I can't take all the credit. My success was because of my family and friends pushing me, my wife cheering me on every step of the way, the incredible people I've met and other microbrands for watches. All of this helped me with the process. I did a lot of the work, but if it wasn't for all these people I would not be here."
After considerable research into a manufacturer that could meet his standards while keeping production costs at a place that would give his line a favorable price point, Tsao plunged ahead into the set-up of the company—from a business plan to financing and an initial marketing strategy with a focus on social media. The latter, he believes, was essential to his early success. He recently launched a Kickstarter campaign with an out-of-the-gate goal of $41,500. In a matter of hours, he had far exceeded that number, and is currently closing in on $100,000.
Tsao credits the company's social media buzz with building anticipation among his future customers, who share in his love for both the old and the new that is combined in a luxury watch. He also says that his fellow "watch geeks," who meet casually to discuss watch designs and makers, have been highly encouraging. A blog called The Time Bum confirms their enthusiasm for Tsao Baltimore.
Now, Tsao says, he's preparing to enter the next phase of product development, which again will find him closely monitoring and finishing the assembly of each and every timepiece that comes back from the manufacturer. The goal, he says, is to begin delivery this December of the hundreds of watches ordered by his customers. In addition, he's having success in negotiating with retailers to carry his watch line. He's also partnered with an Ellicott City company, Clockwork Synergy, to produce a range of watchbands that matches his desire for a look that differentiates the Tsao line from those of other watchmakers. Clockwork Synergy also helped Tsao with the company's video, which showcases the product from a number of angles—design, major features, etc.
Eventually, Tsao says, he would like to establish both a manufacturing and retail presence for his company in Baltimore.
"A boutique on the first floor, where we sell watches and other luxury goods, and an assembly space on the second floor," he says. "If they can do this in San Francisco, Detroit or Chicago, why not in Baltimore too?"
It's a good question, but Tsao has other priorities as well. He has to complete his MBA, and he has to deliver on the promise offered by his Kickstarter. "Fulfillment" is a word that is constantly on his mind—not only how to make sure that every order is fulfilled, but that every step of this process is fulfilling to both the buyer and seller. He says UB, where he spent his entire academic career since enrolling as a freshman, has offered a consistently positive environment for his passions. His professors and classmates, he says, always urge him to give his very best to his studies.
"I've learned all the basics here," he says. "Everybody at UB is so supportive of what I'm doing. I love this school."
Across the campus, the UB community is, well, counting the seconds until Tsao Baltimore takes off.