Mark Zuckerberg and other big-name Silicon Valley investors back an online tutor based in St. Louis

Chuck Cohn, CEO of St. Louis-based education startup Varsity Tutors, just went to Silicon Valley and did what many startup CEOs based there often fail to do: score an investment round from top-tier venture capitalists.

And Cohn did it in short order, securing $50 million from Mark Zuckerberg’s Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, Technology Crossover Ventures and Learn Capital after meeting with just 10 potential investors, he told CNBC in an interview.

He’s now raised $107 million in total.

Cohn got the money, one of his investors says, by doing something usually associated with Silicon Valley but doing it far from America’s technology capital: Growing a company for close to a decade using his own capital and a small team.

“This was not Stanford, not Silicon Valley, where leaving (a prestigious university or a good job) to start your own company is a badge of honor,” says Woody Marshall, a partner with Technology Crossover Ventures who led the firm’s early investments in Netflix, Spotify and Airbnb. “This was in St. Louis.”

It also helped Cohn’s cause that Varsity Tutors is attacking a retail market that Marshall says is worth $15 billion annually and is about to be upended by the internet.

“They’re taking an analog process and putting it online. An instant tutoring session is a new construct,” Marshall says.

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