Q&A with Judy Yee, Founder of K-Zen

Diana Gonimah
Mar 12, 2021

If you’ve pregamed with some Lemon Crush S*SHOTS or unwinded with a Mad Lily spritzer, then you’re already a huge fan of this badass founder. Born in Taiwan and raised in Seattle, Judy Yee founded K-Zen, parent company of S*SHOTS, Mad Lily tonics, and Mad Lily Spritzers, for the cannacurious and the high-flying connaisseur.

judy yee kzen founder

Mad Lilly Spritzers use a low dose blend of THC and CBD to give you an uplifting, bubbly buzz, Mad Lily Sleep Tonics use CBN and THC to help you sleep deeper, and S*SHOTS are your go-to cannabis party essential.

In our latest interview, we sat down with Judy Yee to learn all about her journey to making our favorite drinks:

Let’s start with the basics. Who are you, where are you from, and what’s your connection to the cannabis industry?

Hi! My name is Judy Yee. I was born in Taiwan, grew up in Seattle and am now based in the Bay Area.

I’m the CEO and Co-Founder of K-Zen, a cannabis-infused beverage company. At K-Zen, we are committed to normalizing cannabis and inspiring new ways for consumers to enjoy its benefits. Our goal to help us achieve that by creating a portfolio of cannabis drinks that people love and trust through delivering consistent formulas, great-tasting flavors and rapid, predictable effects.

What does cannabis mean to you?

To me, cannabis represents taking care of yourself through self-care and self-love. And this wasn’t always the case. Growing up, I had a very negative, but false, perception of cannabis, its effect on people and the image it projected on those who used it. But once I started to incorporate low doses of cannabis into my daily routine, it didn’t take me long to realize its positive effects. I quickly discovered a whole new outlook on self-care and well-being.

How did you originally get involved in the cannabis space? 

I didn’t try cannabis until later in life, after having my first child, at the recommendation of my fellow workout and former dancer friends. I was always pretty active and maintained a healthy lifestyle but was finding it harder and longer to recover after taking a few years off to raise my daughter – other therapies I’d tried, like acupuncture, weren’t as consistently effective. Cannabis has allowed me to return to a more active lifestyle, with much less pain and much more joy.

kzen cannabis beverages

What’s unique about your product? Anything first, strongest, only, most?

I’m proud to say we offer a portfolio of products for different types of consumers. Whether you’re canna-curious or an experienced user, we have something for you. Currently, we have several brands on the market — Mad Lilly Spritzers, Mad Lilly Tonic, and S*SHOTS:

  • Mad Lilly Spritzers are our premium cannabis refreshment for the spirit. We infuse real fruit juices and playful effervescence with a low and balanced ratio of 5mg CBD | 5mg THC to inspire an uplifting mind + body buzz. It’s a simple and tasteful alternative to alcohol.
  • Mad Lilly Tonic is the first of its kind — it’s the first ready to drink cannabis beverage made with CBN, a cannabinoid that promotes relaxation for your sleep routine. We infuse lemon balm and lavender extracts with real fruit juices with cannabinoids, like CBN and THC, to inspire calmness and serenity.
  • S*SHOTS are for the more experienced cannabis user. With 10mg THC per serving (at 10 servings per bottle), you can consume this product in several ways – whether it’s drinking it straight as a ‘shot’ or mixing it in with your favorite mocktail recipe; My personal favorite is The Minty Watermelon!

We will also be launching other exciting product(s) later this year, so stay tuned for more details!

What do you want women specifically to know about you and/or your product?

There’s an unspoken expectation that women can, or need to, do it all perfectly and have everything figured out. And that’s not a healthy attitude, let alone at all realistic. We put so much pressure on ourselves to have it all together or at least appear to — from juggling working from home, to raising your kids right, to being a good partner to your spouse. 

Our products are meant for those looking to unwind after a long day, who might want an alternative to a glass of wine or cocktail. Drinking our beverages is a great way to de-stress, relax, handle the kids, get some sleep, feel lighter, etc. The list and its positive benefits go on and on.

Who or what inspired you to start your brand? 

Even before I started to think about launching a cannabis beverage company, as a user and advocate for the plant, my mission was to find a healthier and more familiar form of consumption.

While cannabis is available in more formats than ever before, due to lung health I didn’t want to smoke or vape – and I don’t frequently consume candies or sweets. I wanted something that not only tastes great, but I could feel really good about putting into my body. I wanted something I could enjoy with my friends or by myself to help unwind from another hectic week. A beverage seemed obvious to me — it’s an alternative to alcohol and would leave me feeling refreshed instead of hungover and dehydrated.

So, I decided to take matters into my own hands. Leveraging my healthy food and beverage background, I started researching and experimenting with cannabis and eventually partnered with a team of highly skilled food scientists to create great tasting cannabis beverages. And that’s when K-Zen was born.

  • What challenges have you faced in the cannabis industry?

From a business standpoint, the cannabis beverage industry was virtually non-existent a few years ago. To bring a beverage from concept to shelf that delivers on the value proposition (taste, effects, consistency) that I wasn’t willing to compromise on was extremely challenging. That’s one of the reasons it took us nearly a year to have a portfolio of brands/product lines that we felt would live up to the promise we are making to the world.

Personally, moving from the traditional, Fortune 500 CPG corporate companies to a public advocate for cannabis and forming my own company was not easy. It took a while for me to get comfortable sharing my story publicly. But now, I will always support talking openly about consuming cannabis in a responsible way for health, wellness, and recreational purposes… without fear of persecution or stigma.

If you could smoke one with any historical figure alive or dead who would it be?

I’m not a smoker, but if I could share a Mad Lilly Spritzer with anyone, it would be Kristen Bell. I think she has a refreshing, modern approach and outlook on motherhood and she seems like she always keeps things real. She advocates for issues I care about and she’s even started her own CBD skincare company. She’s bought into cannabis for health and wellness purposes and I admire how she isn’t afraid to share her story publicly. I also love the characters she plays in her movies and TV shows and think it would be fun to kick back and share a few laughs with our Mad Lilly Spritzers in hand!

What top 3 songs would you suggest someone listen to while using your products?

For S*SHOTS I would recommend something that really keeps the vibe flowing, like Bill Withers’ ‘Lovely Day.’ When I’m drinking Mad Lilly Spritzers, I like to keep things upbeat and am prone to dancing, so I suggest ‘Levitating’ from Dua Lipa or Whitney Houston and Kygo’s ‘Higher Love.’ In fact, we created our own Mad Lilly playlist on Spotify that’s full of happy, positive, uplifting songs. You can listen to it here.

What movie/show do you recommend people watch while using your products?

The buzz from Mad Lilly Spritzers is really bubbly and balanced, so I recommend something light and enjoyable like a Rom Com or a series like Schitt’s Creek or Firefly Lane.

Since you can drink S*SHOTS in several formats, I like to take the edge off and make my favorite mocktail, so something hilarious like The Big Lebowski could work.

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