How CNBC’s former SF bureau chief started his own business
Mark Berniker is the founder, CEO and executive producer of Bootstrap Media LLC, which he founded after a 30-year career in business journalism.
Bootstrap Media produces content for business news operations such as Reuters TV and also provides media training for company executives.
Before starting Bootstrap Media, Berniker was CNBC’s Silicon Valley/San Francisco bureau chief, covering technology and digital media.
He also served as executive producer of “The War Room with Jennifer Granholm,” a daily political news program on Current TV. Prior to joining Current TV, Mark spent more than seven years at Bloomberg Television where he helped launch Bloomberg West and several other daily TV news programs.
Berniker spoke with Talking Biz News by email about his career and why he left CNBC to start how own business. What follows is an edited transcript.
How did you get into business journalism?
It’s actually exactly 30 years since I started in business journalism. I had just finished my masters of philosophy at Glasgow University in Scotland, specializing in Russian. I had a chance to go for a PhD, but decided I wanted to pursue a career in journalism.
I had moved back home to New York, and was hired by Bob Frump at The Journal of Commerce. I started as a desk reporter on the international trade beat. After a year with the newspaper, Bob said, “How’d you like to be our new Moscow bureau chief?” I nearly jumped out of my skin. Before I knew it, I had a money belt, a passport, and a cumbersome laptop computer, schlepping across the lands of my ancestors on a fascinating journey.
I started my first foreign correspondence tour, just as the Berlin Wall was falling down, and came home when the Soviet Union ended. So that’s how I got my start in business journalism. One person, Frump, believed in me, gave me a chance, and I was lucky enough to live my dream of becoming a Moscow correspondent at the age of 26.
What factored into your decision to leave CNBC?
There are a few steps before I made my pivot away from CNBC to start Bootstrap Media. When I left Bloomberg TV as senior producer in 2011, after more than seven years with the network, I got an incredible job offer to join Current TV in San Francisco. After the offer was extended, my wife and I decided to pick up our life in Brooklyn, and the Berkshires, and to set-up camp in Northern California.
After a phenomenal year and a half covering the 2012 presidential and congressional campaign with Jennifer Granholm, the former governor of Michigan and Current TV president David Bohrman, it was time to make another shift. Al Gore and Joel Hyatt sold Current TV to Al-Jazeera, and I started scoping out my options.
It was at this same time, my agent, career manager and friend Larry Kramer, said he thought there may be an opportunity to become CNBC’s Silicon Valley/San Francisco bureau chief. I got the job, and after a year and a half, decided it was the right time to start my own production company.
How much prep work did you do before you left in determining what you wanted to do on your own?
I talked a lot with my family, friends, as well as my mentors. I explored the potential market opportunity for a small business trying to deliver high-quality video production at fair prices in the Bay Area. It was more than a step, it was a leap into a new and thrilling period for my career.
How quickly were you able to find work for your own company?
Soon after leaving CNBC, I asked my close friend from Bloomberg TV, Harrison Westwater, if he’d be interested in joining me in starting a new company: Bootstrap Media LLC. The first few months were tough finding our first clients. Then, we started landing several gigs, with some tech startups.
Now, three years and more than 50 projects deep into it, I feel like my clients; Slack, The World Bank, Reuters TV are solid global organizations that speak for themselves.
How much work do you for media organizations vs. media training for executives?
One of my favorite clients is Reuters TV. We’ve done six full-length stories this year together, so that is an example of a contract with a major global news organization. The video stories are for Reuters TV’s Generation Maker Series, which highlights how manufacturing is changing across America.
On the media training front, I’ve done a number of broadcast media training sessions with technology CEOs and other top executives, who are preparing for their IPO interviews on CNBC, Bloomberg TV, Fox Business, Cheddar and other financial journalism sites. I do a very intensive interview simulation process, and then we review the content, to assess how they can improve their performance. So it’s a little bit of both.
In the two years that you have been gone from CNBC, what are you most proud of?
I’m most proud of building Bootstrap Media from scratch and have completed more than 50 projects with clients around the world. I’m also super proud of a 10-part mini-documentary series that I wrote, produced, narrated and directed called “The California Cannabis Project.”
In 2016, I raised the money for the project, and then over a six-month period, created 10, 5-minute mini-documentary episodes about the economics, politics, regulation and farming in the run-up to California’s passage of its new legal marijuana law.
What has been the scariest part of being your own boss?
I actually love being my own boss. At this stage of my life, autonomy and quality of life are my priorities. I set my own schedule, I’ve had a chance to travel to fascinating places, like Richard Branson’s Necker Island in the British Virgin Islands, and also been involved in exciting production projects in Los Angeles, Denver, Las Vegas, New York and Detroit.
It’s not scary being my own boss; it’s hugely liberating, and awesome.
When you’re working for media organizations, do you pitch ideas, or do they give you ideas?
It’s a process of give and take. I really enjoy coming up with my own stories, but am also open to getting challenging assignments. You have to have your own ideas, but you also have to listen, and be open to angles you may have not considered.
How do you and your co-founder Harrison split up the work?
We’re actually entering a new stage for Bootstrap Media LLC. I, recently took 100 percent control of the company, as Harrison got a great new job at CNET as an executive producer.
I’m keeping the focus on mini-documentaries, executive media training, and also doing both company and event video projects. I pitch clients projects, I hammer out the proposals, and then turn those proposals into shoots and edit sessions with specific deliverables.
I do all the planning, writing, scripting and pre-production, and then work with a number of fantastic shooters, audio specialists and post-production editors. I love the mix of research and writing, coupled with field shoots and edit sessions. I’m happiest when I’m creating.
Where do you see your future growth coming from?
I’m most excited about the growth in the mini-documentary genre. There’s a lot of talk about the attention span of mobile video viewers, and that no one wants to watch anything over 90-seconds. I truly believe there will always be a place for more in-depth video storytelling.