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The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

Is it time to revive Groupon? The Zol card aims to do just that

Zol card, the Vanderbilt student-founded promotional coupon card caters to Nashville’s beloved restaurants and bars.
Justin Koolick
Samples of the Zol card restaurants, as pictured on the back of the physical card. (Photo courtesy of Justin Koolik)

If you have an Instagram bio christened with the mandatory “Vandy ‘[Grad Year],” odds are you received a follow request this summer from @zol_card. On its Instagram page, the account markets itself as a “promotional card featuring Nashville’s top restaurants and bars.” However, as someone hesitant to accept requests from “promotional” Instagrams, I did some digging. A quick DM and phone call later, I got the ambitious backstory of the Vanderbilt student-founded “Zol card” from co-founder and sophomore Justin Koolik.

The Zol card was founded by two sophomores, Koolik and Hillary Schröeder, who met in a Vanderbilt Human Organization and Development (HOD) class in Spring 2022. Using what they learned in class, the pair became interested in starting a small business together. 

Their original idea was to modernize coupons and support local businesses.

“‘How could I get people to save money and drive business to local companies?’” Koolik said. 

However, the Zol card claim of being modernized is somewhat elusive as the company uses the tried-and-true, plastic punch-card format. Zol card users can utilize the offered promotional deals at each restaurant, with the card being hole-punched for each used offer by an employee. Koolik eventually wants to move the card to a strictly digital version with in-app purchases and stated the team is currently working on app development with sophomore Neel Gundavarapu. 

Students who pre-order the card before its launch date of Aug. 26 will gain 10 unique promotional offers at 10 local businesses. The businesses currently included on the card include Shoku Ramen, The Urban Juicer, The Villager Tavern, Lonnie’s Western Room, Village Wine and Liquors, Pizza Perfect, Ainsworth Nashville, Nicoletto’s Pasta Company, Thai Satay Restaurant and Dogwood Nashville. The website advertises different promotional offerings such as BOGO pitchers on Saturday nights from The Villager Tavern and (my personal favorite) BOGO Lonnie’s slushies.

For students hoping to maximize savings at restaurants and bars featured on both the Commodore Card and the Zol Card, you are out of luck. Users are unable to combine Meal Money and Commodore Cash with Zol Card promotional offerings.

The benefits of purchasing a Zol card for student users are well-advertised on both Instagram and Zol’s website, emphasizing how the monetary value of the card’s promotional offers ($150) outweighs the card’s original cost ($20) if you use every coupon on the card. The benefits for featured restaurants and bars are plentiful as well.

You can only use each offer once! That’s why the deals are so good!” their website states. “It’s free advertising for them, free marketing” Koolik said.

Over the summer, Koolik cold-called a variety of local businesses and student favorites to gauge their interest in getting involved with his burgeoning idea. Koolik cited using tactics he learned from negotiation classes and the Vanderbilt Accelerator Summer Business Immersion, collaborating directly with business owners to determine the types of promotional offers they would be willing to provide. Maintaining close relationships with the local businesses currently featured on the card remains a priority for Koolik to expand offerings in the future such as pop-up promotions and events. 

“The biggest way I was able to get them [business owners] to agree to this was explaining to them, I’m on the same team. We’re in this together,” Koolik said. “The more cards I sell, the more traffic they get.” 

Koolik himself hails from a long line of small business owners. 

“My mom started a small business [and] my dad started a real-estate tech company. It kind of runs in the family,” Koolik said. “I’ve always been interested in starting a business.”

Koolik’s team has five Zol card ambassadors at both Vanderbilt and Belmont, but he is currently searching for more. These student ambassadors help to sell and distribute physical Zol cards on both campuses for 20% of the current $20 sale price. Koolik hopes to franchise Zol to different universities in the future. 

“It would be really cool if it could be the next young Groupon,” Koolik said. “[Perhaps] a revival of saving money, that feels cool”

Interested students and Nashville locals can pre-order the Zol card on their website.

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About the Contributor
Sophie Edelman
Sophie Edelman, Former Staff Writer
Sophie Edelman (‘24) is studying cognitive, child and educational studies in Peabody College. As the former Music Correspondent, she is passionate about expanding coverage of local musicians and performances. She loves fish tacos, thrifting and working at Vanderbilt’s Acorn School! She can be contacted at [email protected].
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