Zhao joined the China-based bitcoin exchange in June, at a time when OKCoin was seeking to extend its services internationally. Today, the exchange is number two in the USD market, trailing Hong Kong-based Bitfinex.
Speaking to CoinDesk, Zhao suggested he is still open to working in the bitcoin industry, though he painted the current environment as one that might necessitate his taking an extended leave.
"I am pretty sure I will still be in the bitcoin space. I think we've entered a winter phase in the bitcoin industry, but I strongly believe it will pass."
OKCoin, in turn, suggested that the impact of Zhao's departure would be minimal, saying that discussions regarding the departure have been ongoing for two months. It confirmed Zhao's suggestion that a difference of direction was the motivating factor in the decision.
The firm said it has "multiple employees" with experience at tech giants Alibaba and Baidu, all of whom can capably fill the CTO position.
The departure may be unique in the bitcoin space, due to Zhao's experience at both US and Asia-based bitcoin companies. Zhao previously served as head of development for Blockchain, before moving on to OKCoin this summer.
Outside of China, Zhao was one of the more public OKCoin figures, addressing The North American Bitcoin Conference in Chicago last July and routinely interacting with the media.
OKCoin indicated that it would seek to continue this global outreach in Zhao's absence, adding that it is close to establishing an international office, which would be based in either Hong Kong or San Francisco.
"We have a capable and growing international team, which currently is under leadership of Jack Liu, who comes to us from Barclays," the company said. "We have many more updates for the international market to announce soon."
Shift toward consumer services
Though neither party commented on the nature of the differences that lead to the departure, OKCoin CEO Star Xu has been more vocal in recent months about the need for his exchange to build additional services that can bring new users to the bitcoin ecosystem.
Speaking at The North American Bitcoin Conference (TNABC) this January in Miami, Xu told CoinDesk that the company is embracing a broad plan to enter new verticals that can support this goal, while building the trust of international users.
OKCoin noted that it has left the door open to future collaborations with Zhao that may support its wider goals, stating:
"We work in the same industry as Changpeng Zhao and there is large room for cooperation. We are keeping all options open for future collaboration in the future."