An Interview With Matthew Lehner, OneFeather Co-Founder
Matthew Lehner brings over 18 years of experience in the high-tech industry to the OneFeather team.
July 9, 2019
For most of the last decade he has led engineering and product teams, and has also run an agency focused on delivering mobile and web applications to the healthcare industry, US special forces, and green building industry. As a result, this experience directly translates to OneFeather's need for a highly secure and reliable platform.
What is your role at OneFeather?
Matthew Lehner (ML): I'm a co-founder of OneFeather, and worked as the principal developer when the company was first launched. As fellow co-founder, Lawrence has the best understanding of what OneFeather's user base actually wants.
While I took a step back for about two years, now that there is increasing momentum with the OneFeather platform, I provide strategic input into the technical direction of the product.
What do you do? And what drives you? (ML): I'm passionate about improving daily life for people from all walks of life. Since I’m a technical focused, people person, creating web and mobile technology has become my avenue of choice. OneFeather is really an ideal way to pursue this motivating passion.
I had the opportunity to meet Lawrence several years back. At that time Lawrence had intriguing ideas about how to build software that helps First Nations be more autonomous and strengthen their ability to run their own affairs. At its core, OneFeather’s mission has always been about developing "nation-building technology." In the beginning we came up with the idea of developing a communication platform where First Nations bands could input and more easily membership lists.
For example, bands had been relying on Facebook to communicate with their membership, and this created a variety of problems -- the bands didn't own the communications platform, not everybody uses Facebook, and there was also the issue of data privacy, protection and stewardship.
So, the nation-building platform Lawrence had in mind solved these problems and provided a way for bands to privately communicate with their membership.
How does OneFeather help improve the daily lives of its users?
(ML): Providing the ability to manage and vote in elections and referendums and so on is one just one part of the OneFeather platform. Voting is one of the entry point to engage and solve problems that are systemic.
For example, a key problem is that not all First Nations will have an up-to-date list of members. However, it's critical for band governments to possess membership information when interacting with Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada (CIRNAC).
Larger nations will often be work similar to a municipal government and will have the capacity to gather and maintain membership information as part of their administrative organization. In contrast, smaller, remote nations may instead rely on simple solutions, like excel or paper lists, which are often out of date or inaccurate.
By providing a digital platform for record-keeping, OneFeather streamlines and speeds up administration for First Nations, in turn making it easier to provide equitable services to membership.
What challenges did you experience when developing OneFeather?
(ML): The main problem with building a new product is almost always finding product/market fit. We built the communication platform but realized that there was nothing to draw members of the nation to the platform as we weren’t providing a solution that was relevant, meaningful, and useful for the band members themselves. While we had a great product, we weren’t solving a problem for any nation’s members. People aren't going to sign up if it doesn't make their lives easier.
Luckily, we had another opportunity to engage members with the platform. We added the capability to run voting events – referendums and chief and council elections. This solved a real problem for members since First Nations’ band membership can be geographically distributed. Voting using OneFeather is easier, more cost-efficient, and faster than mail-in ballots, and much more simple. It's difficult and expensive for the membership to travel to participate in a voting event.
This has helped generate interest and participation in the OneFeather platform.
How secure is the OneFeather platform?
(ML): OneFeather is hosted in data centers that comply with standard data security. The platform itself is built with Ruby on Rails, open-source software that companies like Airbnb, Shopify, and Kickstarter are built with. As a result, Rails is regularly updated with security fixes whenever a vulnerability arises. We regularly update OneFeather with these patches to ensure that it is kept up to date. The codebase and the business logic has also gone through a security audit. It's important to know that we're not introducing low-level areas for exploits or attacks.
At this point in time, with well-written software it's usually humans who are the vulnerability (social engineering) than code, so that means there has to be education about how to prevent this.
What do you see as the future for OneFeather?
(ML): While OneFeather continues to release new features, one of the most exciting developments coming up is the introduction of blockchain-based sovereign identity and auditing actions.
With our partner Blocpal, OneFeather is developing technology that digitally verifies and secures an online status card renewal application submission to Canada - currently, the only way to renew a Status Card is in person at a regional office or by mail.
After that, there are plans to develop a comprehensive suite of blockchain-based software products including Smart Status Cards, vote management systems, member registrar management systems, digital wallets and financial management and accounting solutions.
By using blockchain, people will be able to use a verifiable, portable sovereign identity when participating in voting events such as referendums and elections, renewing their status card and eventually any banking or transfers from their First Nation.