Got Friends? Get Free Prizes

Maddy Mesa

Recently, Michael Neel (left) and Ryan Toledo (right), founders of DormDuels, awarded Jesse Mackles (center) a $100 VISA gift card in the “Celebrity Look-Alike” contest. Her sorority sisters helped win the Taylor Swift look-alike the most votes. Photo courtesy of DormDuels.

It’s as easy as uploading a picture of yourself, getting your friends to “like” it, and winning anything from T-shirts to a hundred dollars.

The website is called DormDuels.com and it allows students, from FAU or any other school, to enter contests by uploading pictures of themselves based on their weekly themes. The person who gets the most votes wins the prize –– like a year’s supply of Vitaminwater. The creators of the site, juniors Michael Neel and Ryan Toledo, launched DormDuels at the beginning of the fall semester. Since then, it’s attracted 20,000 participants from across the nation, according to Neel.

One of the most recent contests was called “Celebrity Look-Alike,” where students uploaded pictures of themselves, and said which celebrity they resembled in it. Freshman business major Jesse Mackles –– who entered as a Taylor Swift look-alike –– won the most votes, and a $100 dollar VISA gift card.

“I had a lot of fun,” said Mackles. “I had my sorority sisters (Theta Phi Alpha) supporting me.”

But it’s not that Neel and Toledo have excess money to give away on gift cards and other prizes. Each contest is sponsored by a different company. Many of the sponsors include companies exclusively for FAU students, such as Owl Tutoring and Owl Rangers, a club that dedicates itself to promoting FAU and boosting school spirit. The Owl Rangers were the first to sponsor DormDuels.

The juniors knew they had to start at the bottom if they wanted to grow.

“We started off locally,” said Neel. “That’s kind of what you have to do because big companies won’t look at you unless you have attraction.”

And after a few months, they got some “big companies,” like Vitaminwater, to sponsor their contests like “Get Ready for Spring Break with Vitaminwater.”

“Vitaminwater was referred to us,” said Neel. “They were looking to engage with students.”

The idea to start DormDuels came to Neel last summer, although his original idea was to start a website that exposed students to events both on and off campus. He described it as “kind of like a campus info center.”

He invited Toledo to develop the concept, and eventually they came up with the end result: DormDuels.

In the beginning of the fall semester, Neel and Toledo took to the Breezeway to tell students about their company.

This is how Kenny Dubuisson, a freshman computer engineering major, found out about it. He entered the “Most School Spirit” contest with a picture of his chest painted in FAU’s school colors, and won a free Owl Rangers T-shirt.

“They had a table in the Breezeway and I was talking to Michael himself, and he told me about the site,” Dubuisson said. “I thought it is too good to be true, but it was legitimate.”

“It was exciting toward the end because you’re competing with others,” he said.

Aside from doing web contests, Neel and Toledo have held a few events where students compete to win prizes.

“We would like to do more live events [and] contests,” said Toledo. “We had a wings eating contest at the Duck Tavern on Federal.”

About 10-12 people participated in the wings eating contest, and whoever ate the most wings in two minutes won a drinking card from the Duck Tavern in Boca. Other contests received free Duck Tavern T-shirts.

Neel and Toledo are even planning a college tour where they have live contests in local bars and college students’ favorite spots.

“Hopefully, if everything goes well, we’ll be going to a different college every weekend,” said Neel. “The plan is to go to UF, FSU, UCF and USF and create a buzz.”

And they don’t want to stop there.

“The goal is to go national by spring break,” he said. “We get hits from all over the country because people have friends from all over.”