Department of Psychology Alumnus William Chew goes viral on the internet after appearing on BBC show Dragons’ Den

William Chew, a graduate of the BSc (Hons) in Psychology Programme from Sunway University, became a sensation on the internet when he made judges cry on the BBC hit series, Dragons’ Den. The show features budding entrepreneurs pitching for funding from the show’s ‘Dragons’, who are venture capitalists.


William Chew with a display of his Mak Tok products. (Photo credit: William Chew)

The episode featuring William’s inspiring and emotional pitch for his chili paste brand, Mak Tok became popular on social media (see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0HZftd5F0L0). His story was also featured in the local daily, The New Straits Times:  https://www.nst.com.my/news/nation/2019/08/516347/sambal-pitch-penang-born-entrepreneur). He is now a celebrated entrepreneur, especially by proud fellow Malaysians, and also Sunwayians! His passion is to spread Malaysian heritage through food, so winning GBP50,000 (~MYR 256,000) worth of funds from one of the Dragons on the show is a great accomplishment for his business expansion.

Hailing from Penang, William majored in Psychology at the Department of Psychology, Sunway University where he was enrolled from March 2010 to March 2013, graduating with a second class upper honours degree. He completed his final year project research on mental well-being, depression and anxiety under senior lecturer, Ms Jacqueline Gun.

The Department of Psychology caught up with William recently to interview him about his success. Interestingly, William never wanted to do psychology as he preferred to study music or performing arts. His parents were what he termed, “typical Asian parents” who encouraged him to pursue psychology instead. Nevertheless, upon graduating from Sunway University, he combined his knowledge in music with psychology in practice, leading up to a Master degree in the Psychology of Music at the University of Sheffield, UK.

William added, “As I completed my Masters Dissertation on instrumental learning for young adult beginners, one of the Entrepreneurial Officer/Business Adviser saw my idea and thought it would a good business venture. I was very much intrigued on the way people, particularly adults, learn music at a later stage in life. From the study, I managed to come out with a hybrid approach utilising both formal and informal musical learning that heavily focuses on familiarity and self-efficacy. I then started to consult teachers who wish to adopt such methodology in their teachings as well as making it a module that is unique for our clients in China. On top of that, we also conduct workshops using music as a medium of communication with companies and charities. We explore various techniques such as singing in harmony, and call-and-response in improving communication.”

So how did William end up selling chili paste in the UK? This was what he had to say: “Although this musical learning consultant business is great (being everything I could ever hope for), I had a lot spare time because it is seasonal. So one day, I went on to recreate my mum's sambal simply because I was homesick. A lightbulb moment happened and today, we have one of the most recognisable brand in the world of fine foods!” His current aim is (in his own words), “to bring the Mak Tok brand into every kitchen and every hearts across the world”. You can view one of William’s video on Mak Tok on YouTube here: https://youtu.be/Et1Agxe2Thc.


William Chew in action – filming upcoming show in the production studio (Photo credit: William Chew)

With regards to his experience at Sunway University, William admitted that he was never a ‘book-smart’ person and struggled to keep up with his assignment deadlines and final exams. He was also working as a part-time music teacher then to support his daily living expenses then, so it was a difficult balancing act to maintain. Nevertheless, William was grateful for the support he received from his coursemates and lecturers who stood by him throughout his undergraduate journey. He especially recalled how his lecturers were like an extended family to him: “Imagine this, I called Dr Lin – “Mei Hua or Lin Lin”, Ms Jacqueline – “Boss”, Ms. Chee – “Fong Fong”, Dr. Priya – “Ah Ma” (Grandmother), and Ms. Woo – “Ah Woo”! You might think it's a tad bonkers but that is what makes my mentors so cool, approachable, and simply lovely, genuine human beings!”


William with his coursemates as well as Department of Psychology staff, Jeannie Lam, Woo Pei Jun and Elaine Yong, during his university days at Sunway. (Photo credit: William Chew)

William encourages current students to step outside their comfort zones once in a while. He explained, “You can be entrepreneurial without being an entrepreneur. Always challenge and expose yourself to new experiences that could potentially contribute to the development of your transferrable skills. It can be something casual like learning a new language or meeting new people. And it’s perfectly fine if you fail along the way because life is not simply about the end goal but more about the journey and what you make of it. Besides, taking that first step is already a win and failure only mean that you are one step closer to reach your goal.”

When asked about his experience being on Dragons’ Den, William said it was one of the most nerve-wrecking experience ever. “Imagine standing in front of 5 individuals who are titans in their respective fields and pitch your tiny little startup in hopes that they will find it worthwhile to back it. What's worse is that I brought a product close to every Malaysian's hearts (sambal) and our heritage to the eyes of the world. Thankfully, luck was on my side that day and the Dragons were all super nice to me, particularly Sara and Touker. As you might already know from the clip, I suffer from anxiety and it got worse after I moved to the UK. However, music and my knowledge in psychology has helped me to cope with the challenges I face every day. I'm really pleased that in the end, I was able to share my story across successfully that led to Sara taking a punt on me and Mak Tok. I felt extremely blessed because I made not only my friends and family proud that night, but also my motherland.”


William on his most recent visit to Sunway University in February 2019, here pictured with Associate Professor Dr Lin Mei-Hua and Ms Woo Pei Jun. (Photo credit: Woo Pei Jun)

We at the Department of Psychology at Sunway University are very proud of William as our alumnus who have made it big internationally at such a young age (and dare we say, such a young urge!). We hope that our current students are inspired by his success and find their own passions to work on to build their future careers. We would like to thank William for his sharing and that he continues to succeed in his business expansion.