Bootstrapping company ups the meme-making game by adding audio and filters

By Carmel DeAmicis , written on July 24, 2013

From The News Desk

Evan Horowitz's company HandBaked has been bootstrapping it since January 2012, putting out apps that let users set funny audio as their ringtone or send quotes to their friends. For their most popular app Honey Badger, Horowitz and his co-founder Michael Landau partnered with the famous narrator from the viral YouTube video to narrate ringtones in his trademark style.

I can't do it justice in print, but imagine that badger voice saying things like: "Ring-a-ring-ring-a-doodle! Are you going to pick me up or just ignore the shit out of me?"

Their latest app,, lets users take a photo, add funny sounds or famous movie quotes, put an image filter or caption on it, and then share the resulting "mashgram" on YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, or email. This opens up a whole world of possibilities, from personifying animals to narrating baby pictures. It makes a meme more personal, so that people can use it to bring little moments to life for friends and family. There's not an easy way to insert one into a Wordpress post, aside from video format, but here's a glimpse.

Horowitz will never forget the first time he tried to pitch  to an investor. Dave McClure, founder of 500 Startups, came to the co-working space Runway where Horowitz has an office. Horowitz chased him into the elevator -- an experience I'm sure McClure is accustomed to having -- to show his product. Halfway through his demo down the elevator shaft, they lost wifi connection and Horowitz's app froze. "I tried to talk my way through this aborted demo, but I don't think Dave was that impressed," Horowitz said.

At first glance, might struggle to find an audience (or investor) for their product -- they seem to be trying to break into an overly crowded market. What with MemeFactory, MemeSomething, Mematic, Meme Design, the list basically goes on forever.

But when you look at the app you can see how it breathes a new quality into memes. Adding audio to an image makes it more potent. Funnier, sadder, more striking, more nostalgic, more whatever. When "Sopranos" actor James Gandolfini passed away a few weeks ago, the mashgram of Gandolfini with the audio of one of his famous lines got hundreds of shares.

Movie quotes are an intriguing aspect of the app. Everyone's got that one friend that speaks only in Anchorman lines, and inevitably if took off we'd all be inundated on Facebook with shots of friends drinking to the sound of “I love scotch. Scotchy scotch scotch." Every food porn picture posted would have Ace Ventura's famous quote "Yummmmmmy" narrating it.

But there's a scaling catch. At the moment, the startup can't afford to pay big licensing fees for modern movies or TV shows. They're stuck with less popular oldies like "Major League," "Georgia Rule," and "Bonanza." But can you imagine if they could afford to use audio from bigger/newer hits like "Office Space" or "Horrible Bosses"? I can name 20 guys back home whose lives would be complete. Old quotable faithfuls like "Napoleon Dynamite" and "Zoolander" would see a renaissance.

The one hit movie does have is "Ace Ventura," and the few mashgrams posted on the official "Ace Ventura" Facebook fan page have gotten thousands of likes, shares, and comments and an estimated half a million impressions. Horowitz admits "We begged [Morgan Creek studio] to post them." may be begging now, but down the line it could be the movie studios benefitting if mashgrams took off. The memes might breathe life into old brands that are forgotten once people stop quoting them. Morgan Creek studio recognizes that. "We believe the reaction and feedback [to] has been so positive because engages fans in a way that adds value to our products," its executive VP of marketing Greg Mielcarz said. "Instead of 'taking and asking', is 'giving and interacting', while enabling a new way for fans to communicate or just relive their favorite moments from our movies."

I could also see going head to head with Snapchat if it gets messaging under its belt. Mashgrams can't be texted yet, but Horowitz says they're working on that.

Making it in the world of memes won't be an easy task. may be offering something new, but if it wants to market itself and reach a bigger audience, it's going to need some help. At the moment, it's gotten 4,000 downloads since it launched in March. Horowitz and Landau haven't gotten a salary since January, so they'll need to hope their next elevator pitch with an angel investor goes a little more smoothly.