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Going All In: Haider Rafique, Global Chief Marketing Officer, OKX The marketing maven is pulling out all the stops to build "the world's most beloved crypto exchange."

By Aby Sam Thomas Edited by Aby Thomas

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Haider Rafique, Global Chief Marketing Officer, OKX

Founded in 2017, OKX is today one of the largest crypto exchanges in the world- in fact, the Seychelles-based entity formerly known as OKEx is the second biggest global crypto venue by trading volume, and its platform is said to be trusted by more than 20 million customers.

One of OKX's biggest markets is Asia, with a survey commissioned by the company in August this year finding that over 65% of traders there were familiar with the app. But the same survey found that outside of Asia, only 15% of traders were familiar with OKX- and that isn't something that sits well with the company's ambition to become -according to its Global Chief Marketing Officer Haider Rafique- "the world's most beloved crypto exchange." "Everything in life is about energy," Rafique says. "The energy at OKX -in both the engineering department and other areas- shows you that this will be a breakout brand in the category. But the job is not done. We have to tell our story to the world in an audacious way. We can be the most customer-centric, but if we're not bold enough, we might end up limiting the expansion of our brand."

This explanation by Rafique is perhaps the best way to understand the monumental moves that his company has been making on the marketing front in the recent past, all of which was kicked off by a rebranding effort that saw its name change from OKEx to OKX. Rafique led the charge on this front, bringing to the table his experience working at ad firms like McCann and J. Walter Thompson, multinational tech giants like Microsoft and CA Technologies, as well as crypto-centric entities like and OKcoin. "I have felt in the years of working in the crypto sector that, while the tech is super cool, the branding has been, for the most part, boring," Rafique says. "So, earlier this year, I set out to design something completely different and disruptive."

From Rafique's perspective, the rebrand was all about bringing OKX into what he calls a more decentralized future, where digital assets intersect with other newly created experiences- he points to the 'X' in the company's name as being a representation of the unknown and yet-to-be-explored possibilities in the financial and virtual realms. But the rebrand was only the beginning- Rafique then led a sprint to grab major brand partner deals to accelerate global familiarity with OKX. "We knew it couldn't just be any deals," Rafique recalls. "These had to be ones that were characteristically aligned to us and our goal of creating a generation of new, responsible traders through education and training."

Source: OKX

This is thus the ethos with which OKX engineered partnerships with English Premier League champions Manchester City Football Club, Formula 1's (F1) McLaren Racing, golfer Ian Poulter, Olympian Scotty James, and F1 driver Daniel Ricciardo- all of which were easier said than done, of course. "Partnering with American talent and sports agency Creative Artists Agency (CAA) to broker and oversee the formation of OKX's brand partnerships has been a phenomenal experience," Rafique says. "You can end up with a few grey hairs doing these deals. They are not easy to execute, and they come with a ton of competition and complexity. But at the end of the day, we attracted likeminded teams, and we have been quite fortunate with our portfolio of brand partnerships."

Now, the long-term impact of these partnerships is, of course, yet to be determined, but the short-term wins have been pretty gratifying for the marketing maven that is Rafique. "Watching the McLaren cars sport our killer 'Future Mode' livery in the recent Singapore Grand Prix was an incredible moment," he admits. "This dynamic livery was very well received, and it can now even be played in the F1 22 video game, which is the first time any crypto company livery has been featured in F1 eSports." Another of OKX's landmark partnerships has been with the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival held in June in New York City, which was part of an initiative to bring more creators into the Web3 ecosystem- Rafique fondly recalls acclaimed American actor Robert de Niro doing the voiceover for the company's introduction video at the event. "Jane Rosenthal, co-founder of Tribeca Film Festival, has been an incredible partner, and we invested in our relationship with her, rather than focus on every single line in the contract," Rafique says. "Focusing on relationships first has been our winning strategy in the market. This is similar to the close partnership we have with McLaren CEO Zak Brown, and Manchester City CEO Ferran Soriano. Our portfolio of brand partners is incredible at creating value for us that goes beyond the agreements we had."

From Rafique's standpoint, the common thread running through both OKX and all of its brand partners thus far is an insistence on training relentlessly to achieve excellence. "We chose these partners because their vision matches ours," he explains. "We had a long list of candidates who wanted to partner with us, but we were lucky enough to be able to only partner with those that also insist on excellence and are aligned on our vision for the future. How they support our vision goes to the fact that there is a hole in the world today, especially in our category, but even more so in the entire financial services industry. People around the world have lost their trust in the systems, specifically, financial systems. While crypto solves that, we have seen a lot of crypto venues and institutions try the same trickery that led to the loss in trust in the traditional financial systems. We hope that our brand partners will continue to keep us honest, and help us towards our mission of creating the most trusted, and, ultimately, the most loved crypto brand."

Related: Block Party: Wemade CEO Henry Chang Is Betting On A Play-And-Earn-And-Pay Era Of Blockchain Gaming

Haider Rafique, Global Chief Marketing Officer, OKX. Source: OKX

Another major investment OKX made on the marketing front has been in its What is OKX? ad campaign. "Conceived with BBDO New York, this multi-million-dollar video campaign was our first global brand campaign to date," Rafique says. "Until this year, we had spent our time working to deeply understand our customers and building trading products that are at the absolute cutting edge of the industry. This campaign was us saying, 'Okay, now we know we've got something great, we're ready to announce it to the world.'" The campaign's video, which plays on OKX wanting to become a name that resonates better with customers around the globe, has racked up over 15 million views on YouTube so far, helped no doubt by the fact that it features appearances by many of OKX's celebrity brand ambassadors. "It's very rare to see a collective positive sentiment on an ad campaign from the market," Rafique says. "I do have to pinch myself that it all came together like a well-fitted three-piece suit."

OKX's push on marketing comes at a time when a crypto winter has been in full swing, and that can make one wonder about whether such efforts are an efficient use of its funds in this financial climate. But Rafique has a response ready for such an assertion. "We believe it is our mission, as one of the largest crypto exchanges in the world, to encourage our clients to learn about the intrinsic volatility of crypto investment, and discover how to trade responsibly," he says. "Many of those who got into crypto during the bull market 'lost their shirts,' as the saying goes, because they weren't ready for the crypto winter that followed. Many of our competitors were investing massively in promotion during that time, as was demonstrated by the so-called Crypto Bowl. We believe that promoting OKX during the bear market stops investors getting carried away by the hype and fear-of-missing-out (FOMO), and makes them more likely to take time to understand the risks associated. It brings to mind the famous Warren Buffet quote, 'Be fearful when others are greedy,' and this works the other way around too. We want to increase our marketing at a time when everyone else is pulling back. We feel pretty good about that."

Now, there's no question that OKX's deep pockets have helped secure its branding wins of late- but Rafique believes there are still lessons to be learnt from his journey leading all of them. "The first is to lead with relationships, not contracts. Second, be a hopeless optimist, and ignore all pessimism. And thirdly, be open-minded. The world is evolving quite fast. The next generation of global brands may come from the East or other parts of the world. This is primarily why I chose to join OKX, because I see the trend with the likes of TikTok becoming massive global brands without the typical venture-backed journey that we have seen most unicorns take coming out of Silicon Valley. The last one is a life lesson, which is to not underestimate the power of manifestation. We willed our way into these competitive deals, and beat out competition not just in our category, but also many other leading brands who tried to compete for the deals we acquired this year. That is a big feat, and it came from us 'believing' we could do it, and that we deserved it."

Haider Rafique, Global Chief Marketing Officer, OKX. Source: OKX

It is this spirit that Rafique wishes to impart to entrepreneurs and startups wanting to realize similar levels of success to what OKX has enjoyed. "My advice for other businesses is that the biggest power is in intention," he says. "If you have the intention to be a breakout brand, go all-in, and have no excuses. But not every company needs to be a breakout brand. Many break out after 20 years of existence. But in a category like crypto, it's important to be a breakout, as the category matures in the coming few years. This is because the market share is being decided now. If we miss the chance, it'll be lost."

This also ties into the goals Rafique has set for himself at OKX. "My personal north star is to ask myself: how do we create a company and a brand that ultimately becomes the beacon of trust and transparency in the newly-built crypto financial ecosystem? How do we become the most trusted and loved brand in our category?" But, at this point, when I try to drill a little deeper and ask Rafique about the goals he's personally working toward for the long term, he replies, "I am here to help OKX become the most loved and trusted in the world. Right now, I am laser-focused and obsessed with that mission, and I cannot think beyond those goal posts." Rafique is thus clearly going all in with the vision he sees for OKX- the rest of us will have to wait and watch to see if he has played his cards right.

CRYPTO CONVERSATIONS: Q&A With Haider Rafique, Global Chief Marketing Officer, OKX

There continues to be a lot of skepticism against the crypto landscape, and those new to the industry are reluctant to join it given the fear of scams and Ponzi schemes. Given your experience in this realm, how would you suggest that they enter or explore this industry, and why is it imperative that they do?

"Let me answer the second question first. It is not a question of whether or not digital assets are going to become mainstream anymore. We are already seeing this happen all around us. Governments, banks, and financial institutions have already invested in the space and many countries are considering, or have already created, central bank digital currencies. There are a few times in our lives when we get to see and experience the formation of a technology that changes the way we interact with each other. We are going through that time right now with blockchain and the transparency that cryptos provide to the world. It's like saying you should learn about the internet in 1999. Crypto and blockchain could eventually be bigger than the utility the internet provided us within the last two and a half decades. It's also created millions of jobs around the world for people in different markets. It's helped bring financial freedom to many who took the risk of being early. The key is to enter and learn about this once in a lifetime technology evolution by educating yourself first. And then, slowly use your knowledge to enter the markets and open a position. But, on OKX, you don't have to use real investment to learn about crypto and the markets. You can use the demo trading feature in OKX to see how markets react to a possible trade you had in mind. This is a risk-free feature we really encourage all new entrants to use in combination with education before putting any meaningful value into the markets. Ultimately, the win for OKX and the rest of the sector is to create a generation of responsible, educated investors and traders, as well as to debunk the myths of get-rich-quick schemes- because they don't exist, either in traditional markets or in the crypto markets."

'TREP TALK: Tips for entrepreneurs from OKX Global Chief Marketing Officer Haider Rafique

-"Number one is to stand for something. Be clear about it and have no excuses.

-Two, attract a community that relates to your north star and nurture them.

-Three, start small. Solve a small problem that's badly in need of a solution. Become known for that, and everything else will come together.

-Four, fix the user experience (UX)!"

Related: Creating Impact (At Scale): Mundo Crypto Founder Mani Thawani

Aby Sam Thomas

Entrepreneur Staff

Editor in Chief, Entrepreneur Middle East

Aby Sam Thomas is the Editor in Chief of Entrepreneur Middle East. In this role, Aby is responsible for leading the publication on its editorial front, while also working to build the brand and grow its presence across the MENA region through the development and execution of events and other programming, as well as through representation in conferences, media, etc.

Aby has been working in journalism since 2011, prior to which he was an analyst programmer with Accenture, where he worked with J. P. Morgan Chase's investment banking arm at offices in Mumbai, London, and New York. He holds a Master's Degree in Journalism from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York.  

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