Wall Street and Hollywood prepared Jason Foster for the sustainable spray container venture.
by Rachel Stowe Master
Jason Foster '96 left a lucrative job in finance to become an entrepreneur. (photo by Carolyn Cruz.)
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Topics: how i got here
by Rachel Stowe Master
Jason Foster ’96 followed the road less traveled, meandering from a high-dollar career in finance to a stint in acting. Then his light-bulb moment flashed as he ironed shirts, setting him on an entrepreneurial course. While unconventional, his path provided the ideal preparation for chasing his entrepreneurial dream.
When Foster was a freshman at TCU, a fraternity brother pointed him toward an internship at Luther King Capital Management. Growing markets and bustling workloads gave Foster hands-on experience doing research projects with the firm’s portfolio managers. Four years later, that experience helped land him a job as a research associate in Donaldson Lufkin & Jenrette’s Institutional Equity Research Division in New York. The next year, he was promoted to institutional sales in the San Francisco office and became the face of the investment bank to mutual funds in Denver and along the West Coast.
“It was very much a rebirth for me there. It was a restart, and it further opened my eyes to a whole other world outside of Texas. I love the diversity of San Francisco — the ideas and attitudes that permeate from that city.”
The move also resulted in a breakup with his longtime girlfriend. “I had this incredible job and all these professional accolades, but there was a reboot that was happening because something was ending,” he said. “I was making great money, but I wanted to search and do more. There was another side to me that I wanted to explore.”
Foster started taking acting classes at night. Even though he had to be at his desk by 4:30 a.m. and acting class sometimes didn’t end until midnight, he loved it.
“There was something that was really rewarding to me because it was getting me to think differently. I was seeing that being creative did not mean getting results. Being creative is being confident enough in your failures to take risks. That’s what acting really taught,” he said.
His day job flourished, and Foster soon signed a big contract with Morgan Stanley’s Equity Research Sales Division.
“I was making more money than I ever thought I would — and I’ve never been more miserable in my life,” he said.
While he enjoyed the intellectual side of finance, Foster didn’t like the monotony, constantly staring at a flashing screen or dealing with challenges outside his control. He left in 2000 to do independent research and focus more on acting.
“It wasn’t acting that fulfilled me and became my calling — it was becoming an entrepreneur.”Jason Foster
He sharpened his acting chops through local plays, student films and TV commercials. By 2005, he had an agent, moved to Los Angeles and auditioned for television and film. He found steady work doing voiceovers for ad campaigns and Electronic Arts’ video games as well as appearing in the film version of Rent, The Darwin Awards, the TV drama Heroes and the cult movie Pig Hunt.
“I didn’t have any naiveté that I was going to go be some big star,” he said. “For me, it was about trying. I knew if I never tried it, I would always have regret. And there’s nothing I despise more in life than regret.”
Then one sunny afternoon in 2006, Foster had an epiphany over an ironing board: Most of the spray in his ironing spray bottle was water. What if he could invent an easier way to mix liquid concentrate refill pods inside a reusable bottle? It would take fewer trucks to transport, require less shelf space, reduce waste and save consumers money.
Years in finance and acting prepared him for that entrepreneurial moment.
“Because there had been this journey where I had taken the road less traveled, I had actually been preparing in this weird way for this door that opened up to me,” he said. “I had all the doubts, but I also knew that I could go try. And that became my calling. It wasn’t acting that fulfilled me and became my calling — it was becoming an entrepreneur. It was finding my passion in something that I never ever thought would be a passion for me — designing reusable bottles.”
Within a year, Foster filed the first patent for his idea and began engineering efforts. In 2008, he raised $150,000 of angel money and founded Replenish Bottling LLC. Whole Foods carried a Replenish cleaning line before the fledgling company inked a deal with Wal-Mart in 2013 to use its technology in a new line of cleaning products for the retail giant. Replenish Bottling learned a lot from the partnership and continues to innovate.
“We’ve raised close to $6 million so far to create a real alternative to disposable plastic bottles and change the way we buy products,” Foster said. “It’s just a much more sustainable platform than the disposable one that we have found ourselves stuck in today where everything is disposable. Furthermore, many of the products are 90 percent water. People should not be forced to pay for plastic and water.”
Although he wasn’t ready to talk specifics, Foster said that in 2017 Replenish is embracing direct-to-consumer sales, launching the next generation of its technology and entering new markets in the professional hair care, janitorial, beverage and cleaning categories.
“We’ve created this innovation around the packaging. Now we are taking a step further and actually looking at the chemicals that go into products and finding opportunities where we can improve them by incorporating green chemistry. It’s not just about waste or resources, but it’s also about protecting human health,” he said.
The entrepreneurial road is long and hard, and even after eight years, Foster’s company still hasn’t “made it,” he said. “I understand more than ever the idea of a 10-year overnight success. When you get there and you’re sustainable and you’ve been validated, it’s always so obvious to people, and they say, ‘Oh yeah, that was a no-brainer.’ But it took 10 years to be a no-brainer.”
The key to entrepreneurship is being ready for the journey, which takes an enormous effort and may be rife with failure.
“As an actor, failure and rejection are part of the job,” Foster said. “You expect and prepare for it. In business or anything else, everybody desperately tries to protect themselves from those moments. As an entrepreneur, you better embrace that. Acting was a great way to ease into that reality and see that it actually helps you learn. It’s not failure. It’s not rejection. You’re just learning a process.”
Fear is another entrepreneurial constant.
“I have come to accept it and not let it shut me down or keep me from dreaming to try new things,” Foster said. “Fear is healthy. It’s directing fear, along with the rest of your emotions, to realize you will be OK no matter the outcome. This gets you closer to freedom — which is what we all really want to have in our life.”
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