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Alex Malebranche of PlaneAhead: “Pay attention to yourself”

This is true for all things, but definitely in entrepreneurship you can be so focused on your end goals, consumed by your product, and driven by succeeding that you tune out what your body or mind may be telling you about your boundaries. Be present with how you’re feeling and cater to those needs still. […]

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This is true for all things, but definitely in entrepreneurship you can be so focused on your end goals, consumed by your product, and driven by succeeding that you tune out what your body or mind may be telling you about your boundaries. Be present with how you’re feeling and cater to those needs still. You can’t build the next Tesla or Airbnb if you collapse or become unwell. I am a huge advocate for mental health, I struggle with it myself, and it needs to be acknowledged and respected when you’re taking on this entrepreneurial challenge.


As a part of our series about business leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Alex Malebranche, the Founder of PlaneAhead — the first company to take advantage of the permanent removal of change fees. PlaneAhead tracks your ticket after purchase, every day until take off. When the price goes down, it is automatically exchanged, and the airline credits from the change are sent to you. Alex is an Army intelligence veteran, that turned those experiences into a career in tech, working for companies such as Amazon, Amazon Web Services and Plume Smart WiFi.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

Absolutely! So, I was raised outside of Chicago as one of four to a single mother. One thing stood out to me about that experience and shaped who I am today. My mom was, and is still, the hardest working person I know. We didn’t have a lot growing up, but she made it seem as normal for us as possible. She did so by sleeping in her car in between regular shifts and overtime shifts that she would pick up, working 2–3 jobs at times, showering for her jobs at the local gym to save time. She is incredible. So, my work ethic started early. I started working at 14 and had multiple jobs by time I was 15. I joined the Army right out of high school, so that I could pay for my own education and build unique skills that would set me apart. From there, I got my accounting degree and realized I definitely didn’t want to be an accountant! But thankfully, accounting is a very useful tool for a business owner, so I tucked that away thinking that “one day” I’ll come back and use those skills. I knew I wanted to work for a global company because I wanted to travel the world, so luckily, I was able to join Amazon out of school. I eventually did get to live abroad and work for Amazon Web Services, but throughout the beginning of my corporate career, I knew that entrepreneurship was going to be in the cards at some point.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

When COVID began 18 months ago, it changed everything about how we live and work. With that, new opportunities were born. One of those being the elimination of change fees. Something that I always thought, as a frequent traveler, was just an arbitrary way to squeeze more money out of us.

Now, with those permanently gone, the opportunity has been created for a company like ours to exist, where we can take full advantage of the fluctuating costs of airline tickets and the flexibility no change fees give us. I believe an apt comparison is taxis and Uber. Before Uber, we would hop in a taxi, where they would not only start the meter but add fees as soon as you sat down for how many people there were and then the price you ultimately pay is subject to how well your driver knows the area and can get you there as fast as possible. Uber came in and made the experience about us as customers. Transparent pricing, a map to show the route you’re going, a simplified customer experience through an app. That’s what we’re doing. We’re making the airline travel experience for the customers.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

It’s funny now because we figured it out, but the funniest mistake I made was incorporating my company through LegalZoom on my own, starting to build out some tooling, and then I learned the idea I had for my company was illegal. I had discussed the idea for weeks with people; old work mentors, friends, other professionals and every response was “That would be great!”, “No one does this!”, “Amazing!”. Well, weeks into it I needed to ask a legal question for the website I was building, and they started with asking what my business was. As I excitedly told them, he stopped me 2 minutes into our 30-minute call and said that it wasn’t legal for a company to do what I was doing for a whole lot of legal jargon I don’t recall. I was in shock to say the least. I paid a thousand bucks, had a fancy binder with stock certificates and everything and my company was dead in a week. Luckily, we were able to pivot into what we are now, but saying I felt stupid doesn’t quite cover how I felt in that moment!

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

As I’ve gotten started, I didn’t have direct entrepreneurial mentors. A few months in I am starting to build that circle, but to begin, I read a lot of articles and books about entrepreneurs I wanted to learn from. Both well-known entrepreneurs, like Mark Cuban, Brad Feld, and Whitney Wolfe Herd and less well-known entrepreneurs like, Neal Sales-Griffin and Ryan Wilson. The thread that links all of their stories, and countless others, is adapt and overcome. There are things that will get in your way, make you rethink everything about who you are and what you’re doing and if you’re going to make it as an entrepreneur you must be steadfast in your purpose, your passion, and your desired outcome.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

That’s a great question. I think as entrepreneurs, as you said, we want to be the disrupters; the Ubers, the Airbnbs, the Teslas of the world. In my opinion, disrupting an industry is always good because it injects a new point of view into the conversation. That’s what makes it a disruption. There’s one way of thinking and operating and all of a sudden, this company out of nowhere does it differently. Why? Now that doesn’t mean the disruptor is always going to be a billion-dollar success, but it ignites the conversation of how we can do “this”, whatever that is, better, and that’s needed! From the perspective of the disruptor, we think of all the positive things. “We’re different and we stand out”, “we’re the only ones”, “first to market”, but there are a lot of drawbacks to being the disruptor. How do we educate consumers on this brand-new way of thinking? How do we convince them this is better? We just made the entire industry mad at us, what kind of consequences will come with that and can we withstand it? It takes a lot of fortitude to be a disruptor.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

“Pay attention to yourself”

This is true for all things, but definitely in entrepreneurship you can be so focused on your end goals, consumed by your product, and driven by succeeding that you tune out what your body or mind may be telling you about your boundaries. Be present with how you’re feeling and cater to those needs still. You can’t build the next Tesla or Airbnb if you collapse or become unwell. I am a huge advocate for mental health, I struggle with it myself, and it needs to be acknowledged and respected when you’re taking on this entrepreneurial challenge.

“Passion will fill the holes that profit cannot”

What they say about entrepreneurship is 100% true. Say goodbye to sleep for a while, energy drinks or aids are a part of the diet, the high highs of getting a backend tool to work can be quickly erased by the rejection email from a VC or accelerator. The thing that keeps you pushing is the passion you have for the business. If your focus is money, you’ll quickly burnout and realize the entrepreneurial life probably isn’t worth it for the possibility of a big check 8–10 years from now.

“If your company disappeared today, would you be happy with what is left?”

This means don’t ignore the rest of your life so much that your company is all you have. I am a husband and a dad, and I need to be as passionate and proactive in those areas as I am my business. That goes for anything. If before your company you liked camping and working out and volunteering, do those things. It feeds back into your mental well-being and makes you a better entrepreneur.

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

Definitely not done! The evolution of PlaneAhead will continue to challenge how we’ve been conditioned to travel as consumers up until this point. As I said earlier, when it comes to “disrupting” a critical piece is educating the customer and almost convincing them why this way is better than the old way, so we’ll continue to educate travelers and present opportunities for them to experience travel in a way that they haven’t before.

Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?

As unorthodox as it is, The Five Languages by Gary Chapman has been an incredible source of knowledge for me to know how to interact with people in a meaningful way that they will understand. Now the book was written in the context of marriage, and I believe he has since written a version of the love languages for coworkers or people that work for you, but nonetheless, the original is applicable as well. It resonates with me because it will amaze you what kind of trust you can build and what meaningful relationships you can foster, by knowing what makes someone tick, what they’re motivated by, and how to articulate that in the right way so that they understand you. As a leader in the Army and now a leader in civilian life, this book is a game changer no matter where you apply it.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Is it too cheesy to say “Life is like a box of chocolates. Ya, never know what you’re gonna get.”?

There are definitely more serious ones that I could mention, but don’t overlook the quotes we deem as silly! Life is unexpected, sometimes in the best ways and sometimes in the worst. Be ready for that and adapt. What I always tell people is that the circumstances around me will constantly change but who I am and what I stand for will not, so it makes dealing with detours and bumps in the road much easier if I follow my foundational values.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I think this question goes to why I started PlaneAhead in the first place. One of the reasons I love to travel is that I learn about different people and different cultures and I become a more well-rounded and empathic person in my everyday life. At the heart of the dissention around race in the US is a lack of understanding or empathy for people that don’t look like us. Travel more and open your eyes to what makes all of us different. Build an appreciation for those differences.

How can our readers follow you online?

They can catch me on LinkedIn (Alex Malebranche) or Instagram (@boytwigg) and they can follow PlaneAhead on all of the following as well!

LinkedIn: @planeahead

Twitter: @PlaneAhead

Instagram: @planeahead

Facebook: @planeaheadofficial

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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