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I guess "start a company" could be simply considered as "register business name, get licenses, recruit some people, etc".

It seems the expression "start out" means the same thing.

Oxford Dictionary gives this definition about "start out (or up)"

Embark on a venture or undertaking, especially a commercial one.

and this example

the company will start out with a hundred employees

However, Google Ngram shows that the former is more commonly used that the latter.

So, are the following 2 expressions interchangeable in any cases?

started a company

a company started out

Note: The question is NOT "Are 'start' and 'start out' interchangeable". The question is whether "started a company" and "a company started out" are interchangeable.

In other words, do they mean the same thing? Is one more formal than the other?

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"Start" has transitive and intransitive senses.
Merriam-Webster "start"

"Start out" is an intransitive phrasal verb:
Merriam-Webster "start out"

Given that one of your expressions is transitive, and one is not, they mean different things and are not interchangeable.

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  • I agree with you totally. And my question is NOT "Are 'start' and 'start out' interchangeable". The question is whether "started a company" and "a company started out" are interchangeable.
    – WXJ96163
    Apr 3 '20 at 2:54
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    And that's the question I answered. Apr 3 '20 at 3:23
  • Thank you. I am pretty sure I didn't express the question clearly. I updated my OP, do they mean the same thing? Is one more formal than the other?
    – WXJ96163
    Apr 3 '20 at 4:22
  • As to your update, my original comment still applies. The two expressions aren't interchangeable in any circumstances. One is a statement about some subject who started a company (transitive), and the other is a statement about what a company did (intransitive). Apart from that, if you look at the dictionary reference for the phrasal verb, it may illuminate the special meanings that it has. In particular, consider "The company started out as a private concern, but went public later." compared to "WXJ started the company as a private concern, but let it go public later on." Apr 3 '20 at 4:47

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