Brick and mortar will never die

And why that’s a good thing

Earlier this month I was invited to Dublin to speak on a panel at the Web Summit conference about how the on-demand economy is changing how we work, and traditionally offline companies were coming online. I was joined by Leura Fine of Laurel and Wolf, an amazing interior design marketplace that connects clients virtually with designers, and Alex Stephany of JustPark, a platform that matches drivers with parking spaces. I was there as the CEO of Reserve, a digital dining concierge service that helps people find great restaurants, make a reservation and seamlessly pay or split the check after the meal.

We were there to share our learnings as successful entrepreneurs, and it was great to be around so many young companies who were excited about digitizing offline services — an important step to help many industries connect and continue to evolve in our connected world. But I came away wishing I had stressed one point more strongly — an important thing to remember for any Internet entrepreneur:

Brick and mortar will never die. — Tweet this

There are some industries that will never fully go online — and that’s a good thing. You can’t park your car in a digital garage, and few people get excited at the thought of a 3D-printed Spaghetti Carbonara. Brick and mortar will never die in part because we live in a physical world, and necessarily need to interact with real-world businesses. The persistence of these establishments means there are substantive and interesting opportunities for entrepreneurs to help bridge our online and offline lives.

But brick and mortar will also never die because there are some things that are just fundamentally better to do in person. There’s no real digital equivalent to meeting up and breaking bread with old friends, or sharing a meal with new ones. And it’s striking that the most digitally savvy generations, millennials, are embracing real-world experiences like dining out; millennials actually go out to eat more than any other generation in history.

The sun hasn’t set on the offline economy

Still, online is changing and shaping offline experiences in all sorts of ways. A couple of months ago, as part of a series on the WTFEconomy, Tim O'Reilly did a great job of outlining how Instacart partners with grocery stores — providing on-demand logistics that at the end of the day create a new way for shoppers to engage with stores and purchase goods.

Companies like JustPark, Breather NYC, Reserve, Uber and others are making traditionally offline services or assets (like parking spaces, conference rooms, restaurant tables, cars, etc.) digitally bookable online, and in turn creating new ways for people to interact with the world around them, bridging the gap and helping our digital and physical lives be a bit more seamless. And rather than seeing brick and mortar as a competitor to conquer, none of our businesses would last long without our real-world assets. In fact, at Reserve one of our goals is to try and make our restaurant partners as successful as possible — I would guess Instacart feels the same way about their grocery partners.

How do you see online and offline companies working together? Do you think it’s still a competition? Mutually beneficial cooperation? Or a mix in between?

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