You’re marking 10 years of running Friends and Relations with the launch of The Online Book Company. How are they different?
Friends and Relations was conceived as a way of memorialising loved ones online. We began with branded websites which then evolved into commemorative books. A lot of charities use them to raise funds – the RNLI, for example, has been with us from the start and we have recently completed a fully accessible book for the Royal National Institute for the Blind. The Online Book Company represents an expansion and enhancement of all that we offer. We’re no longer just about commemoration but about celebration and education too.
What inspired the original idea?
My brother Group Captain David Haward was killed in a flying accident whilst on duty and my old friend and work colleague Hugh Hastings had also lost his brother through terminal illness. We wanted to share photos and memories of them online and that sowed the seed for Friends and Relations.
What were you doing before that?
I founded and ran the County Homesearch company for 22 years. It’s the largest property finding service of its kind in the UK and the popular Channel 4 programme Location, Location, Location was developed on the back of it – we are still acknowledged in the credits. I sold the business in February 2013 because, although it was one of the best jobs in the world, I had become passionate about building up Friends and Relations. It felt like I was on a journey and providing an online platform for tributes and comments – some of which make you laugh and others cry – has been very cathartic. It’s also been hugely exciting.
What have been the highlights of your online book journey?
So many lovely things have happened that nothing surprises me anymore. Becoming involved with the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012 was particularly special. We created an online book to celebrate the occasion that encouraged people to give sixty minutes of their time to help good causes. It was a huge success with a record-breaking number of volunteer hours pledged. More recently we’ve been working on an official Waterloo 200 e-book that encourages school children throughout the country to find out more about the battle that shaped British history by doing their own research and posting their findings. I was invited to the Waterloo 200 memorial service at St Paul’s Cathedral as a result and so were some of the many pupils who have been contributing.
You’ve also been working with organisations overseas?
Yes – in fact if it wasn’t for the wonders of superfast broadband technology that enables me to Skype, I’d probably be spending one week a month in America. One of our biggest projects at the moment is Fort Miflin, the oldest fort in Philadelphia. Our online book honours the patriots and veterans who have served there, raising funds to maintain it as a living landmark in the process. As well as searching for information about ancestors or adding memorial pages of their own, people can buy a brick to add to the memorial pathway that is being built. It’s an exciting example of the digital world complementing the physical.
How many people do you employ?
There are seven of us in the core team plus we use a number of Cornwall-based consultants and associates.
What are your aspirations for the business?
There’s a lot happening because we’re always looking to expand and improve on what we do. We’re working with The Greenbank Hotel in Falmouth to launch our first online wedding album towards the end of this year and we’re now putting hard covers on our books to make them even more special and individualised. Our mantra is simplicity. What we try to aim for is a combination of Apple’s design genius and John Lewis’s ‘never knowingly undersold’ objective. We’re also very proud to have ISO 27001 accreditation for our information security management and ISO 9000 for quality assurance.
What makes all your hard work worthwhile?
The feedback we get. To give you an example I had a call from a man in New Zealand who saw from one of our military books that his dad had died. He hadn’t seen his father for many years because he’d been asked to leave home when he was fifteen. He asked us if we could find out if his mother and sister were still alive. We did and the family was reunited. There are many, many stories like that and each one is special.
How do you relax?
By sailing my boat and shooting competitively. I’ve shot for Great Britain in the past and love the sport as a hobby.
Thank you to Jonathan Haward for this fantastic insight into The Online Book Company!
Jonathan, Managing Director of Friends and Relations – The Online Book Company