Empowering Athletes and Changing the Game: A Conversation with Charlie Sarmiento, Vertikal X Founder

Hua Wang
November 29, 2023

Ultramarathoner and former professional athlete Sarmiento is building the world’s first AI-driven platform for holistic athlete development

In a world that increasingly values the digital landscape, athletes and sports enthusiasts have found themselves navigating a new playing field—one where social media, branding, and technology play an essential role in success. In this digital era, startups like Vertikal X are changing the game by bridging the gap between athletes and sponsors through innovative technology.

Vertikal X is founded by Charlie Sarmiento, an ultramarathon runner and former high-performance athlete based in Austin, TX.  Vertikal X is a platform dedicated to helping athletes secure sponsorships based on their performance, merit, and social media presence. The platform not only connects athletes with brands but also emphasizes the importance of athletes positively impacting their communities through their social media channels.

In a recent interview, Charlie discussed the motivation behind creating the platform and shed light on its impressive journey in the sports and technology space. Here are some key insights from the conversation:

On the Motivation Behind Vertikal X

Charlie shared the personal motivation that led to the creation of Vertikal X: “I have faced that challenge since I have been an endurance athlete since 2015. But at the same time, I found a way to find sponsors. I have been sponsored by more than 14 brands. So, I want to give back to others who don’t have access or don’t know how to ask for sponsorship. That is what really motivates me—to solve a problem that I faced and the way that I solved it, using technology.”

The Unique Approach to Promoting Athletes

Vertikal X employs a unique approach to athlete scoring. “Vertikal X is a holistic platform that includes a Social Performance Index, an Athletic Performance Index, and an Educational Performance Index,” explained Charlie.  “We use an API with Strava [the leading global digital platform for measuring movement] to gather data from athletes, incorporating various engagement metrics and positivity factors in the social performance index. We aim to measure how positively athletes impact their communities through their social media presence.”

On the Global Reach of Vertikal X

When asked about the global impact of Vertikal X, Charlie emphasized, “This is a global problem. Strava, with its 100 million users spanning 195 countries, has demonstrated the global interest in endurance sports. Our goal is to impact as many athletes as possible, not limited to a specific market. Endurance sports are growing rapidly, and we want to be part of that global growth.”

The Importance of Athlete-Brand Relationships

Vertikal X aims to strengthen the connections between athletes and brands. Charlie discussed the challenges athletes face when seeking sponsorship: “Brands typically rely on marketing agencies to find athletes, but there’s often a lack of transparency about an athlete’s true performance and impact. We want to change that by connecting athletes and brands directly, based on verifiable data.”

The Role of Legislation in Sports Tech

Charlie highlighted the importance of legislation in the sports tech industry: “Legislation, like the Name, Image, and Likeness laws in the US, has a significant impact on the industry. It allows student athletes to monetize their image and likeness, opening up new opportunities. However, it’s essential to keep an eye on the wording related to performance and ensure fairness.”

The Role of Global Technology Companies

Vertikal X utilizes technology from various companies, including Google, AWS, and Looker, to enhance its platform. “We are a Google startup,” said Charlie.  “Google has been a great resource for us. Technology partners like AWS and Looker have also played crucial roles in scaling our platform efficiently.”

On Data Privacy and Source Code

When asked about regulations that require revealing source code, Charlie expressed concerns: “Revealing source code can create obstacles and hinder innovation. While some regulation may be necessary, it’s vital not to stifle creativity and efficiency in the tech industry.”

On the Taxation of Digital Goods

Charlie shared thoughts on the taxation of digital goods and the WTO eCommerce Moratorium: “Taxing digital goods can complicate the business landscape, making it more challenging for startups to navigate. It’s essential to balance the need for revenue with the potential hindrance to innovation.”

The Future of Vertikal X

Charlie is looking to expand Vertikal X in Las Vegas: “Vegas is becoming a sports capital, and it aligns perfectly with the growth of sports tech. The city’s love for sports, gaming, and hospitality creates a thriving ecosystem. It’s an exciting place for startups in this space.”

Vertikal X is poised to make a significant impact on the sports tech industry by providing a platform that empowers athletes and fosters stronger athlete-brand relationships. As the sports and technology landscapes continue to evolve, platforms like Vertikal X are at the forefront of reshaping how athletes and brands connect in this digital age.

Vertikal X

Charlie Sarmiento