There's nothing like a startup to remind you how naive you really are. A new company can make it painfully clear--rather quickly--that the skills you possess are fine, but they're not necessarily the ones you'll actually need to make meaningful progress.

In my case, the things I thought I'd spend most of my time on at Iodine, my startup, were product strategy and development, recruiting and management, and marketing and growth.

In fact, the things I actually spend the most time on are sales and partnerships, human resources and operations, and financial and legal issues.

These areas can be demanding, even for those well trained in them; for me, they're all pretty much terra nova, so learning how to passably conduct myself and get things done has been one of the most challenging parts of the startup life. Basically, without knowing it, I had signed up to do things I wasn't good at and wasn't particularly eager to learn. And all the stuff I launched Iodine to do--create cool software to help people make better health care decisions--is the stuff I've often had to delegate.

Sales and partnerships has probably been the most difficult area. I've been fortunate to have a rich and broad network in health care, so contacting potential partners or customers hasn't been too much of a challenge. Odds are, if there's somebody I need to talk to, that person is only a degree away.

But converting a meeting into a deal is a different story. I've learned the hard way that it's one thing for people to be interested in what you're building, but it's another thing entirely for them to commit time and money to bringing your product inside their companies.

This became clear to me several months ago, when a potential partner asked for a meeting at Iodine HQ. The CEO was eager to bring his consumer product team to hear what we're doing and how we build our products. As their company would complement ours with its massive network of potential customers, I gladly cleared my schedule and arranged for most of our team of seven to spend half a day showing them how Iodine works.

Eventually, we discussed several potential partnerships and how our products might help their customers (and bring us some revenue). But two weeks later, when I knocked on the CEO's door to turn those ideas into a real deal, he made it clear that his company's priorities lay elsewhere. As for that team visit? He admitted it was basically a field trip: He wanted his team to get a taste of a tech startup, for inspiration. Great for them. Not so great for us. You want to take your company on a field trip? Try the aquarium. We're busy.

This lesson was front of mind the next time a company with deep pockets asked for a demo. Before committing, I made sure to investigate its incentives, and whether it had a real need for what we do. And then I built a slide deck that made a clear case for how Iodine could address that need. That diligence has paid off, moving us quickly into a contract conversation. It's Sales 101, I suppose, but it was all new to me.

There are still opportunities for me to play at building products. In fact, understanding what potential customers will actually pay for turns out to be a smart way to plot our product road map. But one of the unexpected pleasures of startup life has been learning things I never knew I needed to learn. And finding out that, all things considered, I may have a knack for them, after all.