Florian Pestoni Of InOrbit: 5 Things You Should Do To Become a Thought Leader In Your Industry

An Interview With Abe Alon

Abe Alon
Authority Magazine
Published in
9 min readJan 24, 2022


I started writing about product management and sharing lessons learned on the job. As I progressed in my career, I found that this was a two-way street: I could share some ideas and then apply them at work. I then started getting comments from people who found the ideas I shared useful and that motivated me to continue sharing.

As part of our series about how to become known as a thought leader in your industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Florian Pestoni.

Florian Pestoni is the co-founder and CEO of InOrbit, the leading robot operations platform for autonomy orchestration. With over 15 years’ of experience leading products at SaaS startups and public companies including Facebook, Microsoft and Adobe, Florian’s passion is to bring a data-driven, product-centric approach to robot operations. At InOrbit, he drives the company’s vision that humans, robots, and AI working together can overcome our global challenges to positively impact the lives of billions.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?

I like to describe myself as a “recovering engineer”: I started out working as an engineer doing research on topics that were obscure at the time and later became mainstream, like crypto and video streaming, but at some point made the switch to business and product management. I’ve worked at public tech companies whose name everyone recognizes, as well as startups at various stages. I’m currently the co-founder and CEO of InOrbit, an early stage startup at the intersection of cloud and robotics.

Can you briefly share with our readers why you are an authority about the topic of thought leadership?

For me it started with a realization, as I entered the robotics space, that there was a big gap in people’s thinking around what it takes to operate robots at scale. I started writing about it and talking to anyone who would listen. Eventually this resonated with other folks, and together we started the leading community for robot operations (or RobOps.) We now meet monthly, have some great guest speakers and are even planning our first conference later this year. I also write regularly on various platforms, participate in and conduct interviews and webinars, and speak at larger events. Along the way, I have not been shy about expressing contrarian views or sharing where various industries need to leave behind their old ways and embrace new directions.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

I’ve had a few interesting adventures, but a particularly memorable one was going up against some of the largest tech companies that were trying to shut out other companies from an emerging video standard. I was able to bust that open and created a level playing field for several much smaller companies. In the end, it all came down to a vote, so we had to lobby to get ourselves included. When we did, one of my greatest satisfactions was the congratulations delivered through clenched teeth from my much larger adversaries.

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?

Very early in my career, I was working at a large, established company on a very promising technology that was a little ahead of its time. After some management reshuffle, my new manager called me to her office and told me I was to stop working on that project. I told her No.

In fact, what I said was that I’d work on whatever new projects she wanted us to take on, but I would keep moving forward with the existing initiative “in my own time”. In the end, it took off and became a key building block for an industry-wide initiative — it just needed a bit more time and a bit of vision.

The funny part was the look of incredulity on her face; as accustomed as she was to a hierarchical management style, she couldn’t fathom that a young engineer wouldn’t just blindly follow her edict. Needless to say, our relationship never recovered.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define what a ‘Thought Leader’ is? How is a thought leader different from a typical leader? How is a thought leader different from an influencer?

I believe that anyone can be or become a thought leader, as long as you can have original thoughts and are not afraid to put yourself out there. I think it’s important to be authentic and comment on topics that are meaningful to you.

While a typical leader may be more inward focused towards their organization, a thought leader is willing to share their perspective with the world. The best thought leaders are motivated by creating awareness and helping elevate people through their content. On the other hand, an influencer is often more motivated by elevating themselves in the public eye.

Can you talk to our readers a bit about the benefits of becoming a thought leader? Why do you think it is worthwhile to invest resources and energy into this?

Being a thought leader is about the satisfaction of helping others, people you may never get to meet, advance their own thinking about important topics. It often starts with one’s own passion for something, and that should come across in all of their content, whether it’s blog posts, articles in specialized press, interviews or a keynote at a large conference. Because of this, investing the energy is not about a cost-benefit analysis, it is a matter of expression and that desire to elevate others.

Let’s talk about business opportunities specifically. Can you share a few examples of how thought leadership can help a business grow or create lucrative opportunities?

Being a thought leader starts with authenticity. People can smell a fake thought leader that’s just a shill for some corporate entity. You have to share a point of view that goes beyond a particular product or company. You give to others without expecting anything in return, and then something magical happens: as people start flocking to your point of view, they may start generating opportunities. Customers may hear about a business you’re part of and will want to learn more. Employers will be impressed by your thoughtfulness and offer you a job. However, approaching it as a transactional relationship is probably not the right angle.

Ok. Now that we have that behind us, we’d love to hear your thoughts about how to eventually become a thought leader. Can you share 5 strategies that a person should implement to become known as a thought leader in their industry? Please tell us a story or example (ideally from your own experience) for each.

In this day and age, it’s easier than ever to get started: there are so many platforms and opportunities to share your point of view. Many people may feel intimidated or may not know where to start, thinking that content has to be polished. But what matters most is just getting started. In the beginning, don’t worry about how many people are responding; it’s not the quantity but the quality of the interactions. Over time, you will refine and find what works for you: some people prefer the more natural flow of a podcast; others would rather create a long form article that allows them to delve into complex topics; yet others prefer to respond to current events in real time through comments.

In my case, I started writing about product management and sharing lessons learned on the job. As I progressed in my career, I found that this was a two-way street: I could share some ideas and then apply them at work. I then started getting comments from people who found the ideas I shared useful and that motivated me to continue sharing.

In your opinion, who is an example of someone who has done a fantastic job as a thought leader? Which specific things have impressed you about that person? What lessons can we learn from this person’s approach?

I believe Nick Mehta, CEO at Gainsight, does a fantastic job. He doesn’t take himself too seriously, as you can tell if you’ve seen some of his videos, but at the same time he is helping spread the word about customer success as a discipline. Sure, this is self-serving to the extent that people associate Gainsight as a leading customer success platform, but in the process he helps elevate people in customer success roles, allowing them to get recognition from executives for the great contributions they make.

I have seen some discussion that the term “thought leader” is trite, overused, and should be avoided. What is your feeling about this?

I think the term is sometimes overused. Unlike influencers, I don’t go around calling myself a thought leader. At a networking event, I would never introduce myself that way. I also believe there’s a big difference between just doing marketing for a brand and helping people expand their understanding of the world around them. The latter is what motivates me and what I really think of as a thought leader.

What advice would you give to other leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?

Be authentic and write about something you really care about. Use your own voice, don’t try to copy someone else that you believe is successful. Do you have a unique sense of humor? Flaunt it. Are you analytical and can see something in data that others don’t? Share it. Along the way, think about how you may be helping others.

You are a person of enormous 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. :-)

We’ve started a movement we call RobOps, with a growing community of people from various disciplines. My company, InOrbit, attracts people who are motivated by being part of this change. Our shared belief is that people, robots and AI together can help humanity overcome some of our biggest challenges. Our big, hairy and audacious goal (BHAG) is to help 1 million robots positively impact the lives of a billion people.

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

“The difference between tenacity and stupidity can only be determined in hindsight.”

I came up with this quote myself, although it’s quite possible that others have arrived at the same conclusion. After talking to hundreds of entrepreneurs (as advisor, mentor or fellow traveler,) I have found that it’s hard to tell which one it is when you’re riding the startup rollercoaster of emotions.

A founder I spoke with who had just raised a $73M round, shared the story of how just a couple of years before they were struggling to close business; his co-founders bailed; he took a second mortgage and then lost his house; his girlfriend dumped him and he had to give up his dog because he was couch surfing. He could have found a job anywhere, but chose to stick with it against the advice of everyone around him. In the end, it paid off, and he was now being praised as an innovator and was invited to give keynotes at major events, but it could have very easily gone the other way.

We are blessed that very prominent leaders in business and entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to have lunch or breakfast? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)

I think it would be fun to hang out with Ben Horowitz, but more than breakfast or lunch, it would need to be drinking bourbon at a dive bar listening to rap. Two decades ago, well before A16Z, Ben wrote an influential blog post on product management. I’d enjoy getting his take on what has changed since then, and what has remained valid, as the product manager roles and the industry as a whole have transformed since then.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

These days I’m most active on LinkedIn (linkedin.com/in/florianpestoni) and my company’s blog (inorbit.ai/blog/author/florian). I also run a series of interviews for the Robot Operations Group (robops.org/interviews) and write for the Forbes Technology Council (forbes.com/sites/forbestechcouncil/people/florianpestoni), appear on podcasts, guest write articles in various magazines and occasionally go back to Medium (florianp.medium.com).

Thank you so much for your insights. This was very insightful and meaningful.



Abe Alon
Authority Magazine

Director of Authority Magazine’s Thought Leader Incubator