Launching Manufacturing Happy Hour

Combining his engineering background with podcasting — and beer

Tim Cigelske
Apr 9 · 6 min read
“Manufacturing Happy Hour is kind of the convergence of everything I’ve been doing since I was in college.”

In 2021 I’m featuring people on a Creative Journey during the COVID-19 pandemic. This is №6 in the series, featuring Chris Luecke, founder of Manufacturing Happy Hour.

I’ll start by saying this: If you stick with a creative venture long enough and that venture addresses a gap in the market, your creative venture can eventually turn into a business. That’s what happened with Manufacturing Happy Hour, the interview podcast where we take on the biggest trends and technologies impacting modern manufacturers in a current, cool, and approachable fashion.

I originally started Manufacturing Happy Hour as a short-form YouTube series while I was at Rockwell Automation in Fall 2016. I spent the first 10 years of my career working for them as a salesperson in 2 completely different markets. At the time, I had recently relocated from Houston, TX to San Francisco, CA where I was calling on a much younger demographic. I needed a medium that would resonate with a customer base of Millennial decision-makers. A video series where I discussed a cool product or automation technology over a beer seemed like just the ticket.

It’s funny. Manufacturing Happy Hour is kind of the convergence of everything I’ve been doing since I was in college.

When I was at Marquette University, I was the Promotions Director at Marquette Radio and I also played in a band. All of this while getting my mechanical engineering degree. Somewhere early on, I became the “the document guy” in all of my engineering project groups. I had a knack for taking technical subjects and information and communicating those topics in an easy, approachable fashion.

As an Account Manager at Rockwell, it was my job to influence my customers and ultimately help them make buying decisions. Since I loved being behind the microphone or up on stage and I had the engineering background, starting a video series and podcast to help me communicate with my client base was a perfect way to play to my strengths while making the job a ton of fun.

Balancing a day job. At first Manufacturing Happy Hour was just a video series that I included in a regular newsletter that I sent to my clients. It was 100% aligned with my job as a salesperson.

As I started sharing the show across social media and it gained popularity, new opportunities arose: Broadcasting from trade shows, interviewing the CEO, and throwing live and virtual events with my growing audience. I feel like figuring out how to scale, automate, and outsource is always one of the biggest challenges any businessperson or side-hustler faces. Specifically in my case, I was starting to feel like I was working 2 different jobs.

A ton. I can’t overstate how supportive Rockwell Automation was in helping me springboard this creative endeavour and my career as a whole. My managers at Rockwell — and quite frankly all of my friends and mentors at the company — were super-encouraging of what I was doing.

I remember when I first pitched the idea to my peers at Rockwell: It was a Saturday afternoon and I figured the best way to communicate the idea was through a video. I created a makeshift tripod using a stack of books and a selfie stick, popped my iPhone in, poured myself a beer, and hit record. I sent a 3-minute video explaining the concept to maybe 15 or 20 of my friends and mentors. They loved it, my manager gave me the green light, and the rest is history.

The first Manufacturing Happy Hour

Honestly I think the “happy hour” spin helped in rallying support. It was a fun way to get other people involved in the show through interviews and conversations (over a beer whenever possible). It also made for a great reason to turn it into an event. I started hosting in-person networking events at local breweries with my customers in the Bay Area and with the broader Rockwell community at our annual trade shows. We had turned an internet video series into a party.

Nowadays one of the biggest groups that keeps me motivated is the Manufacturing Happy Hour Industry Community. We have a crew of almost 400 manufacturing leaders that regularly collaborate in our LinkedIn group and meet up for monthly Zoom happy hours to discuss the latest in manufacturing news and technology. We’re all looking for ways to help one another succeed in advancing the manufacturing industry.

One of the biggest evolutions was creating the podcast. While Manufacturing Happy Hour started as a product-centric, short-form video series, it eventually grew it into a long-form podcast. I found it was easier to have candid, natural conversations when we weren’t under the pressure of communicating a concept perfectly in a few minutes. With a podcast, you can have a longer conversation, but still pull out the best nuggets from the interview.

I’m still very bullish on podcasting and think it’s a medium that many have yet to take full advantage of. There’s just so much “micro content” that you can pull out of a 20- or 30-minute interview to amplify your message across so many digital mediums.

I recently left Rockwell Automation to help other manufacturers tell their story to their target customers. I’m still running Manufacturing Happy Hour full time while helping other industrial clients with their marketing strategies. This includes helping them launch their own video series and podcasts, teaching their sales & marketing teams to leverage social selling tools on LinkedIn, and coaching them on modern content marketing strategies for turning their customers and prospects into raving fans. We all know the value of testimonials (When was the last time you bought anything on Amazon without seeing if it had a 5-star rating?) and I want more manufacturing companies to have brand advocates that ultimately sell their solutions on their behalf.

I finally found a way to play to my strengths and collective experiences. I’m decent at sales and I always worked hard, but I knew I wasn’t doubling-down on some of the skills I had put on the backburner. Starting Manufacturing Happy Hour allowed me to become a more effective salesperson and marketer, unlock a whole new set of skills and experiences, and have a ton of fun in the process. Now that I’ve had just over 4 years of runway doing this, I’m excited to help other manufacturers unlock their content marketing potential as well.

Piggybacking off the last question: Play to your strengths. I think the best thing anyone can do — particularly early in their career — is try a bunch of different things and figure out what you’re great at and what you suck at. There are plenty of things I don’t do well, but if you’re on the right team and pick the right partners, you don’t need to spend time focusing on your shortcomings. Become self aware of your strengths and weaknesses and then focus on making your strengths even stronger.

A more specific piece of advice related to content creation would be to not get held up by “needing the right equipment.” At the end of the day, “equipment” is usually just an excuse for not getting started. You can literally start a video series using your iPhone, start a podcast with your computer and headphones, or start a blog using platforms like Medium.com. If you have a message and a mission to share that will help others, start now.

Who wants a beer? Lol, what I meant by that is let’s keep the conversation going! If I can help give you some encouragement to get your own creative venture off the ground or if you’re in the manufacturing space and want to jam about content marketing, podcasting, and humanizing your story, connect with me on LinkedIn or Twitter. Stay Innovative, Stay Thirsty. Cheers!

Tim Cigelske is the author of The Creative Journey: A Timeless Approach to Discovery, which tells the stories of creative paths from all walks of life, including farmer, children’s author, comic book artist, Pixar animator and many more.

The Creative Journey

A timeless path to discovery

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