Exclusive Interview: Real Engineering’s Brian McManus

This article was originally published on portershed.com and has been republished here with permission.

Brian McManus sat down with the PorterShed to discuss his journey from an engineer to a successful YouTuber with over 3.5 million subscribers on Real Engineering – and why he feels the content creation field is one that is only just taking off.

Brian’s Real Engineering channel launched in 2016 after Brian decided to leave his 9-5 engineering job. Since then, the channel has witnessed enormous success, been followed on by a sister channel, and Brian has also co-founded Nebula, the smart streaming service. Whereas once, Brian was being inspired by people making content that interested him, now he is the one leading the way, making in-depth, one-of-a-kind content that is consistently viewed millions of times around the world. 

When Brian started, there were very few outlets producing the type of content that Brian wanted to make and share with a large audience, which meant that he had to write his own playbook as he went. Today, there are hundreds of channels in the same category, but Brian is at the forefront of it all, producing, scripting, and editing detailed videos on space, energy, engineering, materials, and so much more.

Weaving intriguing narratives into each production, he’s been able to hook readers with captivating content. 

Staying on top of his game

“There’s an army of 15-year-olds that want our job, so you have to be continually improving your craft and making yours the best possible,” he says when asked how he plans to remain one step ahead of the competition.

“Because anyone can upload on YouTube and there’s a lot of talented people who now see the value in it, that it is a potential career option. You have to stay on top of your game.”

Indeed, Brian has been striving hard to help ensure that what he’s doing is cutting edge. Having invested a lot of time and energy into his craft and production values, he is certainly blazing a trail – especially when it comes to his video animation.

“Our animations are quite high-quality now. There were one or two news stations that took our footage from the Perseverance Rover and I assume they just thought it was NASA animation because they looked fairly similar to the quality that NASA were making,” Brian explains.

One animation even included an easter egg of Grogu (more widely – if incorrectly – known as Baby Yoda) getting abducted in the background. The perks of being a content creator mean that Brian gets to have fun with even this side of his job, underlining just how passionate he is about making material that is playful, engages his audience, and stands out from the crowd.

Irish economy

Indeed, while most of Brian’s audience is based in the United States, he does cultivate his content to be as appealing, as educational, as informative, and as inclusive of diverse regions as possible. This drive to create the best content is certainly a key factor behind his continued success – and a couple of recent studies, one from Google and another from Oxford, boldly underlines just how the likes of Brian and his fellow Irish YouTubers are having a directly positive impact on the economy. The former of these studies indicated that YouTube contributes to 1,600 Irish jobs, contributing €30m to GDP, but is there more to those figures?

“For what it’s worth, I don’t think those numbers are right – I think it’s much higher,” Brian explains.

“People like Jacksepticeye, alone, is making more than €30m a year, but he lives in Britain so I’m not sure exactly how they’re measuring all of that.”

It’s a testament to the growth of the Irish content creation scene, where entrepreneurially minded professionals are making viral content that appears in many guises. And does Brian believe that Irish Youtube content creators can reach even loftier heights?

“I think if more Irish people were willing to put themselves out there, we could be, because we’ve historically punched above their weight in cultural stuff – I don’t even know if [the Google study] is counting musicians like Hozier in their calculations, I’m not sure. I think Irish people have a stigma against looking for attention online, but there are ways to do it in non-cringey ways.”

Next chapter?

Brian’s Real Engineering channel was the first one he launched, and it gained traction pretty quickly, ensuring that Brian didn’t need to return to the 9-5 circuit. The next channel launched – Real Science – has become enormously popular, too, with over 747,000 subscribers already. Many of their videos, including their ‘The Insane Biology of’ series, garner over a million views apiece, and since Jun 2019, the channel has attracted almost 44 million views in total. Stephanie Sammann is the host, narrator, editor, and producer of this channel, and she has certainly made light work of attracting a dedicated audience.

And that’s not all. Plans are afoot to add another channel to the ‘Real’ family, as Brian explains.

“We are looking to start another channel in the next year or two, and it’s just a case of finding producers capable of handling it because scaling is difficult because there’s no college course for making YouTube videos. You kind of look towards the film industry; there are very few people who can do everything, like film, animate, write, and all that – and we need all of that. Every single one of our shows is handled by someone who can do everything, so that’s difficult – the writing, in particular, is difficult. 

“We’re just figuring out what the next thing is going to be.”

Improvements and developments are an everyday part of the Real Engineering and Real Science stories, and the same can be said of the smart streaming service, Nebula, that Brian helped co-found together with dozens of fellow creators and Dave Wiskus. Already, the platform has 435,000 paying subscribers.

And while lots of positive change and growth is a positive for Brian and his audience, one thing that remains a constant is the draw of Galway. Although based in Texas – which is quickly becoming the new playground for tech experts to experiment and have fun – for Brian, there is always time for the City of Tribes, especially at the PorterShed.

“For me, the community here has always been really nice, even though I’m pretty quiet and keep to myself for the most part. I have a co-working space in Austin, Texas, and the co-working space there is completely different; very segregated, no-one really talks to each other, whereas [the PorterShed] offers a nice way to come in and separate my work and life,” he says.

Undoubtedly, Brian is the definition of an entrepreneur. Having struck out on his own, he has now built a legacy that continues to grow today, and he has made new strides with Nebula, too. A testament to what can be achieved when you reach for your goals, Brian has also been diligent in his efforts to succeed by creating high-quality content that filled a gap in the market – and the real results speak for themselves.

Taoiseach Launches Engineering Building: ‘A Brilliant Opportunity for the Next Generation of Engineering Students’

Speaking at the opening of the National University of Ireland, Galway’s new engineering building, the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny today said that the Irish government has, “a philosophy of opening doors to creativity, to initiative, to ambition and to potential”, and that with the completion of the new, €40 million engineering building, “the foundation has been laid for a new future, just as the foundation was laid in the 1850’s for a century and a half of excellence coming out of Galway.”

Before unveiling the plaque commemorating the launch of what will be the largest engineering building in the country, Mr. Kenny said that the world as we know it was, “changing before our eyes, with nanotechnology, robotics, genetics, biotechnology and the Internet”, and commended NUI, Galway on being, “recognised internationally as a research-led university.”

Mr. Kenny professed to being amazed at some of the research he had seen while being shown around the University by NUI, Galway President Dr. Jim Browne, and said that with the completion of the new engineering building, there was, “a brilliant opportunity for the next generation of engineering students in Ireland to make their mark not just here nationally, but internationally.”

He referred to the announcement by wind turbine producer C&F Wind Energy that they were to create 145 jobs in Athenry, Co. Galway, as, “the conclusion, in part, of what this building is about”.

The €40 million development was co-funded by the Irish government, the University itself, and by private philanthropy. The Taoiseach said that while he didn’t want to dwell on the cost of the building, he was confident that it would prove to be money well-spent.

“It’s what walks out the door, in the next twenty years, in the next fifty years, that will make this building what I know it can achieve.”

The striking, angular, 14,000 square metre, four-storey building will house the University’s School of Engineering and Informatics, continuing a strong tradition in Galway of engineering, which has been taught at the University since it opened under the guise of Queen’s College Galway in 1849. The University can also lay claim to the world’s first ever female engineering graduate, Alice Perry, who graduated in Galway in 1906.

The building itself has been designed to serve as a “living laboratory”, with live data from sensors will measuring the behaviour of the structure and its energy consumption, to be used as a teaching tool for structural engineering and building performance concepts. Students will also be able to view sections of the foundation, structure, and service pipes, which have been deliberately made visible, so that the anatomy of the building can be studied.

After the unveiling, the Taoiseach warned, however, that large infrastructure expense would have to be curtailed in the future, saying that there, “isn’t any money for many of these projects now”, but reiterated his government’s commitment to, “turn around the fortunes of the country and of the people.”

Starting Out With Facebook Targeted Advertising

I recently ran my first Facebook advertising campaign in order to promote an engineering degree course here at NUI Galway. Although it may have been run too late to change most students’ minds about what course they wanted to do, I thought it might be interesting to share some insights into the Facebook advertising process, and to give an idea of the power of the targeted advertising system they provide.

When you click on the “Create an Ad” button on Facebook, you are presented with some ad design options – namely, the URL where you want people to click through to, the title (limited to 25 characters, which requires some imaginative juggling of words and txtspk), an image, and a description for the ad (135 characters). This is standard stuff, but where it gets really interesting is when you start playing with the targeting options.

By default, you normally need to choose a target country. Choosing Ireland will inform you there is an estimated reach of 1.5 million people who are 18 or over on Facebook. Choosing the USA changes that figure to 120 million. Considering the population estimates for Ireland and the USA are around 4.5 million and 300 million respectively, that’s at least a third of each country who use the site. You can choose countrywide or city-specific targeting.

You can then fine tune in terms of demographics: age and sex. But clicking on the less obvious “Advanced Targeting Options” link shows some fascinating options: target people on their birthdays; target people interested in men or women; target people in a particular type of relationship (single, engaged, married, other); and languages. You can also target people at different education levels and in specified workplaces.

Finally you choose your daily budget, and also whether you want to go for eyeballs on ads (cost per mille – CPM) or clickthroughs (cost per click – CPC), along with a bid amount for how much you are willing to pay for impressions or clicks.

This may sound like a bit of a black art, and since it was my first campaign, I decided to adopt a gambling strategy by placing my money on different horses. I knew that parents were highly influential in their child’s choice of college course, but I also knew that I primarily wanted to show the ads to school-goers. Then I wanted to make sure that I covered other groups like teachers, relatives, etc.

So I went for a three-pronged approach:

Secondary school students
…exactly between the ages of 16 and 19 inclusive
…who live in Ireland
…who live within 50 miles of Athlone, Ballina, and about 30 other towns and cities in the west of Ireland
…selected cost per click (CPC) was 40 cents

Parents
…exactly between the ages of 40 and 55 inclusive – (I was estimating an age range of the teenager’s age plus 24 to 36)
…who are married – (I know this often may not be true, but it helped cut out many wasted ads to non-parents)
…who live in Ireland
…who live within 50 miles of Athlone, Ballina, and about 30 other towns
…selected cost per click (CPC) was 60 cents

Everyone else
…who live in Ireland
…selected cost per 1000 impressions (CPM) was 20 cents

And here are the results. For about €520, my ad was shown about 7 million times, and was clicked on about 1,750 times. That’s an overall average cost of about 30 cents per click.

It’s difficult to estimate if a click is worth more than a printed flyer sent in the post, but if you know roughly what type of clicker you had, then it’s pretty valuable information. Of those 1,750 clickthroughs, 1,100 were from the “secondary school students” group. 250 were from the “parents” group. I had budgeted about twice as much money for students, but for a lower bid rate they actually got double the clickthrough rate of the parents. The “everyone else” category was shown as much as the other two campaigns put together, perhaps due to the wider geographic spread, but received less clicks than the students, perhaps due to the ad placement (CPC being prioritised over CPM).


Clickthroughs for the three campaigns. The dip is due to my credit card maxing out while travelling!

What was interesting was that the most successful campaign was indeed the targeted-to-students one. But I was surprised that the broad spectrum campaign outdid (by 150 clicks) that of the one targeted to parents in the region, for the same amount of money spent (€130 each).

Facebook offers very fine-grained reports on campaigns. There are also stats regarding “social clicks”, i.e. the number of ad impressions where the viewer saw that a friend had liked the ad. Interesting stuff, and it seems there is still lots for me to learn…