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I think there are differences between an "aspiring startup" i.e. self-employment, small business, cooperative etc. and a startup. To me you are running a startup when you are ready to take funding that will mainly be used for growth. People can of course call their businesses whatever they want, but using a term like "seed stage startup" would be helpful for clarity.

Why does being a startup have anything to do with taking external funding at any particular stage? I would say being a startup is more defined by whether you are at an early development and market research stage or whether you have an established, significantly profit-making product/service. How that early development and market research happens to be funded seems irrelevant.

I don't agree. Readiness for funding should not be a litmus test for whether a business is a "startup." There are plenty of startups that never need funding.

I think that if you want to differentiate between startups and self-employment, a good litmus test would be to ask yourself whether someone would potentially buy your business. If the answer is yes, then it means that there's something more than the income stream from an individual's labor.

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